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  • Tiana Muthanna

Anatomy of a Shark Attack

Misinformation and assumptions are what lead to the stigma around sharks. Sharks have a reputation for being dangerous and scary. But this is what we are likely to think only until we start to dig deeper into the subject. We have all heard about shark attacks all around the world. Little do we realise that sharks are not looking to eat humans and we are not their ideal prey, keep reading and you might start to understand the reasons and factors that affect shark attacks.

First of all, let's talk about how sharks do not want to eat us. Sharks have been around for more than 420 million years while human ancestors first came about around 6 million years ago. We are not a part of their natural diet. One of the main reasons for shark attacks is that sharks are naturally curious. Normally, sharks are just exploring the water. Also, some sharks' mouths are sensory organs. So if a shark were curious about something splashing at the top of the water, it would want to bite into it to know more. We also see that most shark attacks are just one or two bites and not prolonged attacks. This shows us that the shark was probably not trying to eat the human. Sometimes due to the speed and size of the shark, these bites are fatal.

Another reason that tells us that sharks are not looking to eat us is the difference between how they attack us versus how they attack their natural prey. For example, if a great white shark was interested in eating a seal, it would attack from below at great speeds and push the mammal into the air before devouring the animal. But with humans, that is not how the interaction looks. According to ‘In Australia, the rate of shark attacks is in the order of 0.5 attacks per million people, while in the US it is less than 0.2 attacks per million.’

Now, we understand that sharks are often not trying to hurt us intentionally. Let's talk about the factors that affect these meetings between humans and sharks. The main factor that changes the frequency of shark bites is the distribution of sharks and the concentration of sharks and humans. Naturally, if there is a higher amount of humans and sharks in a certain place, there is a higher chance of them meeting each other. This correlates to a higher amount of shark bites. Also, things like climate change, water quality, and destruction of habitat cause a shift in shark distribution. One instance of this was in 1992 when there was a sudden increase in shark bites off the coast of Recife in Brazil. Some scientists believe that this is because there was a commercial port being constructed that destroyed habitats leading to displaced bull sharks. In some cases, the rise in the amount of prey along coasts, for various reasons, will also make sharks gather around certain areas. For example, on the coast of Massachusetts, the population of seals has increased recently. This led to Massachusetts' first fatal shark attack.

Other than distribution, another reason for shark bites is territoriality. Sharks might not exactly be territorial but there is a type of hierarchy between sharks. The biggest ones get the nicer hunting grounds. These sharks might be territorial in their hunting space. Smaller sharks that try to intervene might be violently kicked out. So some human-shark meetings that lead to bites are sharks just trying to protect their food. A lot of sharks are observed to have home ranges and they are protective of it. Some of these could be great whites, bull sharks, and tiger sharks. These sharks are also the most known to bite humans.

Whatever your new perception of sharks may be, do understand that I'm not saying that sharks are not a threat to us or that they won't bite us. And I cannot tell you that sharks are not dangerous. They are, just not to the extent that the internet and horror movies make them seem. And if one of you were to go swimming in a patch containing one of these larger shark species I guess you could say that there is a chance of meeting one and to take all the precautions you would need to stay safe.

The reality of it all is that despite how dangerous an encounter with sharks can be, the probability of a human dying while eating a meal or while opening a champagne cork is still much higher than during an encounter with a shark. Also, we as humans are a much bigger threat to sharks than they are to us. We hunt them for their skin, fins, and organs. To make products that make our life more convenient. Overfishing has almost wiped out some species of sharks. All we can do is take precautions, like staying with a buddy, not wearing shiny jewellery that could replicate the sheen given off fish scales, etc. I hope you learned some stuff from this article.

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