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5 Shark Myths Debunked

Brush up on your shark facts. 

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© Ellen Cuylaerts / Coral Reef Image Bank

Sharks are dark, scary monsters of the deep—or are they? Sharks get a bad reputation for being the ocean’s top predators (thanks Jaws!), but there is a lot more to these fierce fish than meets they eye. This Shark Week, we want to set the record straight on five of the top misconceptions about sharks.

A Great Hammerhead swims by a scuba diver in Bimini, Bahamas.
© Amanda Cotton / Coral Reef Image Bank

Myth: Sharks are man-eaters.

Truth: Sharks are not interested in eating people—most would prefer a nice seal or fish, thank you very much. Sharks have been around for much, much longer than humans (450 million years vs. about 2 million years ago), and therefore evolved to eat prey like fish and marine mammals. Shark encounters are often a case of misidentification—a splashing surfer can look similar to an ocean animal, and some sharks will investigate with a nibble. Once it realizes it hasn’t captured its usual prey, the shark will often let go. Of more than 500 species of shark, only about a dozen have been involved in attacks on humans.

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© Hannes Klostermann / Coral Reef Image Bank

Myth: Sharks don’t have any predators.

Truth: Sharks are at the top of the food chain, so it’s easy to think that they have no predators. And while that’s mostly true, there are some exceptions. First, orcas have been shown to eat mako, great white and other sharks by flipping them over to stun them. Also, larger sharks will eat smaller sharks—including ones of the same species! Elasmobranch cannibalism can even happen in the womb—some species of shark, including sand tiger sharks and grey nurse sharks, will eat their siblings before they’re even born.

But shark’s top predator? Humans. People kill about 100 million sharks every single year, making us their biggest threat.

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© Ben Thompson

Myth: All sharks are massive.

Truth: Yes, there are some very big sharks—whale sharks are the biggest fish in the sea, after all! But not all sharks are as hefty. The world’s smallest shark, the dwarf lantern shark, can fit in the size of your hand. It’s found in deep waters up to 1,500 ft and has light-generating organs called photophores along its stomach to attract prey and hide from predators. Similarly, newly-discovered shark called the American pocket shark only reaches 5 ½ inches long and secretes a luminescent substance from small glands under its pectoral fins to hunt prey. They’re just a few of the many cool small sharks in the ocean—and it’s time they get as much love as their large cousins!

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© NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research

Myth: Sharks are only found at the ocean surface.

Truth: Although Jaws made it seem like all sharks are hanging out just below the surface, ready to poke their dorsal fin ominously above the water, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, there are many species of shark who are only found in the deep sea. Sixgill sharks can reach up to 16 feet (4.9 meters) in length, making it one of the largest sharks in the ocean, and can dive down 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) or more. Greenland sharks, one of the longest-living sharks (they can live up to 200 years!) hang out between 4,000 and 7,200 ft. And cookiecutter sharks, who get their name from the meat they “cut” out of their prey, can dive down to below 12,000 ft.

Blacktip Paradise
© Hannes Klostermann / Coral Reef Image Bank

Myth: Shark attacks are common.

Truth: This one is easy—shark attacks are not common. The odds of getting attacked and killed by a shark are 1 in 3,748,067. To put that in perspective, here are a few things that are more likely to happen to you than getting attacked and killed by a shark:

  • Being hit by lightning (1 in 700,000)
  • Being killed by fireworks (1 in 340,733)
  • Becoming a millionaire (1 in 55 for millennials)
  • Being dealt a royal flush in poker (1 in 649,740)
  • Winning an Olympic Gold medal (1 in 662,000)

With humans killing 100 million sharks every year, sharks have the right to be much more afraid of us than we are of them. It’s up to us to protect sharks.

This Shark Week, help us protect these incredible animals for generations to come. Will you help us create safe places for sharks in the ocean—free from marine debris and trash?

Congress is taking on the issue of marine debris with the recent introduction of a new bill called the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act. Congress has the power to take an important step forward in the fight to combat the growing marine debris crisis.

Will you take action and tell your Senators to support this legislation? Take action today.

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