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Diaries of a Shark: I’m Not Scary

Great White
© Jeff Lovin

I’ve got sizable jaws, impeccable sense of smell and a body typically larger than the average lion. I get it. You think I’m scary. But at the risk of sounding somewhat self-involved, I’d like you to understand my perspective, my motives and four reasons why I’m really not scary.

We’re just large fish

I don’t want to simplify anything here, but we’re really just fish. Misconceptions float around that sharks are mammals, but our leathery skin, gills and flexible-cartilage skeletons assign us to a subclass of fish known as elasmobranchs.

Size doesn’t matter

Our size is incongruous with our reputation. We range from 8-inch lantern sharks to 40-feet-long whale sharks—and it just so happens that the largest of us, the whale shark, is a gentle-giant. These bus-sized enormities are relatively harmless to humans and feed on plankton. When it comes to sharks, bigger doesn’t always mean scarier.

Some of us are tragically slow

Did you know the Greenland shark is one of the slowest recorded moving fish out there? While some of us can topple great speeds, others drift along at a much more leisurely pace—the Greenland shark averages about 0.76 miles per hour.

What’s more, there are some of us that can die if we stop swimming! A few of us like great whites, mako sharks and whale sharks need continuous movement to keep the oxygen flowing over our gills and to expel the carbon dioxide. Trust me, we’re much more concerned with maintaining our own movement than watching yours. You humans take the whole breathing-while-resting thing for granted.

5782e3237f38f-78222 (1)
© Renee Capozzola

We don’t actually want to eat you

Seriously, blame Hollywood. Just because my intelligent, fair-weather friend decided to chomp up half of Amity Island in the movie Jaws, doesn’t mean we all want the same things. In fact, most shark attacks are exploratory bites, meaning we’re just curious about the unknown object in our territory. Our intent is not to eat humans, you’re not nearly as fatty as our typical meal. And if we do actually bite, we’ll let go once we realize the human isn’t food.

In fact, out of the 440+ species of sharks out there, less than 1% of them have been ever known to hurt or attack a human. And out of those, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History that’s been collecting data since 1580, only three kinds are responsible for unprovoked fatal attacks in the double digits.

Toilets are way more likely to kill you

If somehow none of the above reasons has moved you on behalf of my kind, here is a list of five things more likely to hurt you than a shark:

  • This is not a joke. Did you know in a single year toilets injured more Americans than sharks? 43,000 toilet injuries, to be exact.
  • According to the CDC, cows kill about 20 people per year.
  • Vending machines. We all saw that one coming.
  • Coconuts: More people are killed every year by falling coconuts in Asia alone, than people being killed by sharks around the world.
  • Lightning Strikes: You are 75 times more likely to be killed by sky sparkle than one of us.

I hope these reasons, and this rather disturbing list, has helped you to see the world from my fins. And if you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out Ocean Conservancy’s shark fact sheets and tune into Shark Week on Discovery Channel, where we flaunt even more of my kind’s incredible tact and ability.

Happy Shark Week, everyone!

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