It’s the UK premiere of “Sharknado 5: Global Swarming” tonight on SyFy UK (9:00pm if you’re wondering) and we’ve had a lot of fun over the past seven days here at What The Craggus Saw with Shark Weak but amidst all the man-eating monstrous nonsense, there’s a lot of things these presumably well-researched and meticulously fact-checked movies leave out. So, in the interests of balance (and, you know, the planet’s future), here’s the science bit:
It’s not news to you, I’m sure, that sharks in the real world are in big trouble. SyFy Cinema might show them as vicious, relentlessly voracious killing machines but in real life, they are very vulnerable creatures (okay, vulnerable creatures with a set of endless serrated knives for teeth but remember, for every human killed by a shark attack, humans have killed nine million sharks).
Peter Benchley, the author of “Jaws”, has been particularly vocal about his guilt over the role he played in giving sharks their gruesome reputation and contributing to the global attitudes towards sharks and their utterly misrepresented threat to humans. With Hollywood embracing this remorseless killer of the sea image and humans encroaching more and more into their habitat either for leisure or commerce it’s gotten us to the point where some species of sharks are at severe risk of extinction and many more are suffering serious population depletion. The reduction and potential loss of sharks could prove to be catastrophic to the marine environment and subsequently to humanity and our relationship with the oceans.
Sharks are fish, ranging in size from the 10m-15m Whale Shark – the largest non-cetacean creature alive on the Earth today – to the 20-50cm small varieties such as the Cookie Shark. In amongst the range, you have the renowned predators such as the Great White, the Bull Shark and the Tiger Shark, unusual species and variations such as the Hammerhead Sharks and Wobbegongs (Carpet Sharks). They range all over the planet’s oceans from the Oceanic White Tip who prefers deep, open water to the Bull Shark which can happily live in both fresh and salt water areas. We have sharks in UK waters too. For example, the huge but harmless filter feeding Basking Shark (notable for its tendency to swim with its fin above water, “Jaws”-like, as it scoops up the microscopic nourishment floating under the surface of the water often visits in summer. Blue Sharks, Thresher Sharks, even the occasional smooth Hammerhead Shark can pop in around the south coast of the UK and, of course, we have permanent residents like dog fish, cat sharks and smooth hounds in our waters all year round. And don’t forget the shark family also includes the Rays too, from the small skates found in UK waters to the enormous Manta rays found in warmer climes.
My point is that Sharks are spectacularly more varied and diverse than the Great White Shark that Hollywood has adopted as the poster child for fear of the ocean and even then, the Great White itself is not what it is portrayed as on screen. As varied and diverse as they are, they all have one thing in common: they are all under threat from Humans. We have the biggest impact on them in so many ways: overfishing, commercial fishing techniques and by-catch all have a direct and immediate impact by reducing numbers by taking them out of the water to start with, not to mention the abhorrent ‘finning’ of sharks for soup and health supplements which sees otherwise healthy animals caught, mutilated and then dumped back into the ocean to sink, drown or bleed to death.
Climate change is also taking its toll as CO2 changes the acidity of the oceans and temperatures start to rise. Similarly to CO2 changes, long term temperature changes in the ocean can be devastating, even a degree or two’s warming is damaging coral reefs and when the coral goes, so do the fish which live and feed off them and suddenly the sharks’ food sources have also vanished. Sharks may sit at the top of the food chain, performing a hugely undervalued function of keeping the oceanic populations healthy and in balance by removing the sick and weak through predation, but they are vulnerable to any large scale disruption to those populations. And, as if all that weren’t enough, we’re also filling the deep ocean with plastic garbage. It’s not just about target efforts to protect the sharks themselves, when we move to protect and restore the environment, we save the sharks and, ultimately, ourselves.
No, sharks do not have a murderous vendetta against humans but, when you think of everything we’re doing passively and actively to harm them, could you really blame them if they did? Sharks need our help, and we can do this is so many ways…
🦈 If you eat fish, make sure that it is caught in a sustainable manner – don’t just accept “sustainably caught” on the packaging, I would encourage everyone to only purchase fish that is certified by an appropriate board like the Marine Stewardship Council. Also know that some fish is shark meat marketed under a different name. That Rock or Rock Salmon in your fish ‘n’ chip shop is actually Dog Fish, and it’s not usually sustainably caught either.
🦈 There are many organisations and charities out there who study and advocate for Sharks, providing information and education who would welcome your support (click on the logos to find out more):
🦈 Why not adopt a shark?
🦈 Marvel at how far Sharks travel the world, pick a favourite and follow them!
🦈 Say no to single use plastic. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish (tonne for tonne).
🦈 Reduce, Reuse, Refill, Repurpose, Recycle
🦈 Pick up your litter. And organise or participate in your own local beach clean.
🦈 Don’t buy shark teeth necklaces or other shark items on holiday – by buying these items you provide a demand and this drives supply. Don’t buy it and they won’t be killed to provide it. You might want to think twice about cage diving with sharks or participating in organised shark feeding activities too. It encourages unnatural behaviours and puts people at risk, thereby putting sharks at risk if/when incidents happen.
🦈 Check out the late Rob Stewart’s world-changing documentary Sharkwater, which helped raise awareness of the plight of sharks worldwide and usher in a worldwide ban on shark-finning.
Sharks are great fun as movie monsters but I hope this has given you a bit of inspiration for what you can do to help protect and conserve them so that in years to come, future generations won’t be thinking of these magnificent animals the way we do the dinsosaurs when we’re watching “Jurassic World”.
Thanks for reading and feel free to share your ideas on how we can help protect the environment and sharks.