the demonization of sharks | pangeaseed

many people base their notions of sharks solely on information gleaned from sensationalized headlines or media sources like jaws, open water, and discovery channel’s shark week rather than from personal encounters or scientific research. so, it’s no surprise that most people think sharks are menacing, aggressive, and bloodthirsty animals who are hungry for human flesh.

this great fear that humans have toward sharks is partly understandable. when out at sea, we are not in our natural element. our limbs and feet are more suited to walking than swimming, and most of our senses work best on land. in a foreign environment, the fear of other species is heightened. as the earth’s top land predator, human beings will always be fascinated by the idea of being preyed on by a larger animal. this psychological root is repeatedly played out in folklore and stories, from the biblical tale of jonah being swallowed by a whale to the novel, moby dick.

such irresponsibly misleading media coverage reinforces the portrayal of sharks as indiscriminate killers. this reputation is further reinforced by news sources that sensationalize the rare shark attacks that do happen around the world. pigs, vending machines, bee stings, and falling coconuts kill more humans per year than sharks, yet the media does not sensationalize these issues with such zeal because these dangers don’t rouse in us the delicious fear of the mysterious, insatiable, hostile archetype. 

with such depictions in the cultural mindset, it’s easy to see why selachophobia, the irrational fear of sharks, is so common among humans. the majority of the human population will never get the opportunity to spend even a few minutes in the presence of one of these beautiful and elusive creatures in the wild (unless they seek out a biodiversity hotspot and fork up a lot of cash to go diving), but most people still cling to a fear of sharks. despite how common and understandable this fear is, statistics assure us that this fear need not continue. sharks are not as dangerous to human beings as many people think, and the chances of being attacked by a shark are infinitesimal. worldwide, sharks are responsible for 4.2 human deaths on average per year. a person is 285,714 times more likely to die in a car accident and 16 times more likely to die from a bee sting than from a shark attack. out of 400+ species of sharks, only a few species are “dangerous” to humans (white, tiger, and bull sharks account for over half of all shark attacks.

in reverse, experts estimate that humans kill up to 100,000,000 sharks each year. the irony of selachaphobia is that the chance of a shark being killed by a human is 30,000,000 times larger than the chance of a human being killed by a shark.

peter benchley, the writer of the book that the highly influential film, jaws, was based on, regretted writing a book that demonized the great white shark. He spent his later life protecting sharks and promoting oceanic conservation.