For as long as I can remember, sharks have been portrayed in the media as monsters. The film Jaws sealed their fate – from that point forward, all sharks became insatiable man-eaters. The reality of sharks is quite the opposite. Sharks are incredibly sophisticated animals generally uninterested in people. Of the over 500 species of sharks, only a handful have ever been known to bite humans. Every year, 7-10 billion people swim in the ocean, of those 70 – 100 people are bitten by sharks, most of those only requiring stitches. An average of only 5 people die; when sharks do make mistakes and bite people, they rarely remove flesh. If sharks wanted to eat people, they would, and those numbers would skyrocket.
Because of this irrational fear, the fact 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins goes largely unnoticed. Sharks are quietly disappearing during our lifetimes. The reality, which most scuba divers know, is that sharks are mostly harmless to humans but are incredibly important animals to the oceans and thus, life on earth. I met my first shark when I was nine, and instead of attacking me, it fled in fear. This changed my perspective of sharks so dramatically that I sought them out from that point on, eventually leading me on the journey to create Sharkwater.
Every time you see a shark cage on TV, there is someone outside of the cage filming. Shark documentaries often intentionally misrepresent sharks, making audiences think that they attack everything in the water for the simple fact that blood, teeth and fear increase ratings. Sharks are lured and baited for hours, even days, eventually bringing about the behavior needed to get dramatic footage. This is the standard for shark documentaries, and it’s atrocious. It tells a very different story than reality; we spent 200 days a year outside of cages filming Sharkwater without a single incident.
Sharks can provide great drama for TV, film and media. High speed attacks, razor sharp teeth, and harrowing tales of survival. Unfortunately, some people choose to profit from this misperception, by selling fear of sharks, much like those who profit from shark finning. This mentality is one of the biggest challenges we face in shark conservation. Few people want to save a creature they have been taught to fear and loathe.
It is my hope the public will become educated and demand realistic shows about sharks, stopping the cycle of drama. The fact of the matter is, production companies produce what people watch - and we can't just blame the media. We can absolutely influence how sharks are portrayed by voting with our dollars, and in this case, our "eyes" meaning what we chose to watch and support. Until then, I urge production companies and networks to take more responsibility to protect sharks, accurately portraying these magnificent animals. Finally, I hope those who know the truth about sharks will instead chose to profit by establishing sustainable industries geared towards shark appreciation, like the Bahamas. A living shark is worth more alive than dead as proven by responsible dive operators who take people to swim with sharks in their habitat. These inspiring dive experiences help change public perception, raise awareness about the plight of sharks and help create an industry based on conservation – not exploitation.