On Friday 12th October 2018, a 37-year-old man, David Weaver from Nelson, British Columbia, was found guilty of twice jumping into a Ripley’s Aquarium shark tank, fully naked. This humorous piece of news was featured on many of Toronto’s major news broadcasting sites. The reactions from the public were quite similar: many believed the man was being reckless and that this was an incredibly dangerous act. However, the essential, resounding idea was that more security barriers should have been put up to keep this man, and anyone else, out of the pool. In reality, the sharks kept in captivity at Toronto’s Ripley’s Aquarium are well nourished and trained, and the man was most likely not in any danger, even though his decision was questionable.
To hear such a tale in the news was refreshing; it was certainly a different type of story than others as of late. One may notice that the presence of sharks in such a light differs from the typical: the media frequently has misconceptions towards sharks and their behaviours, though perhaps with reason -- the number of shark attacks in Florida increased from 7 non-fatal attacks in 1993 to 38 non-fatal attacks in 2003. More recently, the average number of unprovoked attacks has remained consistent, ranging from 21 to 27 attacks in the last 15 years. The year 2015 marked a record high of the number of reported unprovoked shark attacks worldwide, topping the charts at 98. So what is causing this increased number of shark attacks? LiveScience wonders if this increased number is not the fault of the sharks themselves, but rather the fault of humans, overpopulating the planet and increasing the likelihood of shark-human contact. These attacks present themselves as yet another example of the harsh consequences of mankind’s domination of Earth.
As previously stated, sharks are frequently misunderstood in the media, but why? Why have humans neglected sharks out of fear and misconception? National Geographic believes one answer may lie in the summer of 1975, when the film Jaws hit international audiences. This thriller features an aggressive Great White Shark, the primary antagonist, who terrorizes a community on the East-Coast, and it is currently the seventh-highest-grossing film in Canada and the USA, while being the second-most successful franchise film. Though the awareness of these predators was commonly known at the time of release, the first movie in the Jaws franchise fueled human’s fear of sharks, what with the famous and suspenseful score which echoes the rapid beating of a heart as the villainous shark appears for the first time. Through popular media, the epidemic of this fear has continued to grow, and exists to this day; such is evident through the release of the thriller/fantasy film The Meg, which was released in August of 2018.
However, our fear of sharks may be a leading cause of their extinction. For example, shark fin soup is one of the most controversial foods in the world. Its effect on endangered sharks was brought into the limelight when the president of the United States enjoyed the delicacy while visiting Vietnam in November 2017. Historically, the meal is most commonly consumed in China and Vietnam as a special, banquet-type meal, rather than for everyday consumption. However, commencing in the 1980s, the meal became more accessible to the public with the boom of the Chinese economy, depleting the numbers of sharks as consumption of the soup has doubled.
The depictions of sharks in the media has fueled a fear among humans around the world to see the animal as a dangerous predator, disregarding that the sharks have ultimately become humankind’s prey. Statistical information supports the theories of the dangers of this predator, as more attacks are occurring, even with a depletion in the number of living sharks today. Finally, a reminder to all TFS students who plan to head South for upcoming breaks: stay conscious of the risks of shark attacks, and please don’t consume any shark fin soup!