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Silber: Think about the sharks

BY KELIN SILBER | JULY 15, 2015 5:00 AM

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When I was around 6 years old, water in video games scared the living crap out of me. I had a constant fear of something popping out of the water and eating me, and that thought scared me so much that my brother had to play the water levels for me. I attribute my water anxiety to what I now ascribe to be an irrational fear of sharks.

Sharks are dangerous predators. However, the statistical likelihood of a shark attack is microscopic. According to National Geographic, you have a 1-in-3.7-million chance of being killed by a shark. 

On average, there are only 16 shark attacks per year, with a fatality every two.  Across the world, there are only an average five deaths a year.  That number is much lower than events such as “Shark Week” would suggest.

The weeklong event on Discovery Channel makes beaches seem more fatal than they are. Toilets injure more people than sharks every year. For perspective, in 1996, toilets injured 43,000 Americans; sharks injured 13. Air fresheners even hurt more people than sharks every year. There is no reason to fear shark attacks, for they are less likely than media and Hollywood perceive them to be.

“Shark Week” exists as a sensationalized, fear-mongering campaign for increased viewership, but ignores that for every human killed by a shark, humans kill around 2 million sharks.

You would think a week dedicated to an animal would focus a little bit more on conservation during commercial breaks, rather than a fruitless search for the obviously extinct Megalodon.

There will never be a big Hollywood film about a deadly toilet, for porcelain will never be able to be fetishized the same way “the greatest killing machine” could be. But the over-fixation on sharks is problematic because it refuses to show the mistreatment toward the animal.

An under-discussed issue is shark finning; an absolutely brutal, inhumane practice. Shark finning is the process of removing the fin from a shark. The shark is almost always alive, and after the fin is cut, the shark is thrown back in the water. Because the animal cannot swim without the fin, the shark will fall to the depths, where it will be eaten by other fish or die.

Around 100 million sharks are killed every year, according to Wildaid, and 73 million are targets in order to make shark fin soup — considered a delicacy in parts of Asia. An estimated 32 percent of open-ocean sharks are threatened with extinction, reported the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

As predatory as they may seem, this is barbarous by any standard and can be compared with cutting the horns off rhinos for for some traditional Asian medicines and in some countries for knife handles. Yet, because of the perceived carnivorous danger associated with sharks, conservation efforts for them are considerably less publicized.

The truth about sharks makes for bad television and therefore will likely not be talked about. But a small break from exaggerating the dangers of sharks could provide great benefits.

If events such as “Shark Week” took a little more time to press issues such as shark finning, media can tangibly increase the awareness of such threats to a vital member of the ocean ecosystem.


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