How can we change the villainous portrayal of sharks? Perhaps it can start with a tweet…
Since the dawn of modern entertainment sharks have been an icon of crippling fear, imminent death and absolute terror. Even before Jaws really set the stage for the gratuitous shark attack genre, b-list island-themed films in the ‘50s used sharks to add a little taste of horror. But now, looming shark attacks are the entire premise of some films, only multiplying the trepidation some people feel dipping a toe into the big blue.
In reality shark attacks are so incredibly rare, occurring on average 82 times annually worldwide. Still sound worrisome? Let’s put that number into perspective with a list of ways you are more likely to die:
- Riding a bike.
- Getting struck by lightning.
- Falling into a sand hole.
- Getting sucked up in a tornado (No, you will not end up in Oz.)
- Actually going through with your Pinterest board of home DIY projects.
Yes, sharks are generally top predators. And yes, you need to use extreme caution when you are face-to-face with a Shortfin Mako (the fastest shark species–so don’t try to swim away!), but are they really the villainous man-eaters that we read about in news articles and see on the Sci-Fi channel? Absolutely not.
The true villain is us, humans. We kill 100 million sharks every year. We fish them, fin them, and degrade their habitat by destroying reefs, mangroves and the very water they spend their entire lives in. As a result, one-third of pelagic shark species are facing extinction. But what desire is there to halt our shark massacre when they’ve been portrayed as a threat to our lives dare we step foot in the water, rather than as the integral component to the health and biodiversity of our planet’s seas that they really are?
The science community on social media is arguably playing the biggest role in reshaping this unfair stereotype. I see it in action every day as a social media manager. Trends from the hashtag #SaveOurSharks to adding googly eyes onto shark gifs are helping to enlighten a wider audience with an improved image of sharks, and I’m proud to be able to take part in these conversations in my role at GWC.
This week is Shark Week, my absolute favorite week of the year and a huge trending topic annually on social media. I was not always living every week like it’s shark week, though. When I was young I was terrified of water (because sharks, duh). After a fun week of surf camp with my brothers in Florida when I was in primary school I realized I needed to know more about my sworn enemy. Knowledge is power, right? But I ended up learning to love sharks. I even, with extreme hesitancy, jumped into shark-infested water off Belize’s magnificent barrier reef when I was a teen. Not everyone is lucky enough to have an experience like that shape their perspective, but sharing stories like this and inspiring others can change the way people see sharks.
This Shark Week we are challenging you to join in to do just that. Let’s paint sharks with a less gory, bloody brush and provoke new conversations about the various species we are fortunate to share a planet with. Share a favorite shark image, video, fact, or googly-eyed gif if that’s your thing, with the hashtag #NotAllSharks.
Let’s be a voice for these threatened, misunderstood and marginalized species. At Global Wildlife Conservation, those are our favorite kind of species. We focus on the unique, unheard-of underdogs and give them a fighting chance. Our Search for Lost Species campaign is even giving hope to one of the rarest sharks, the Pondicherry Shark. This small requiem shark has been missing to science for nearly four decades, yet we are on a mission to find and protect it.
#NotAllSharks are Jaws, but all sharks need our help.
Find out how you can support the search for the Pondicherry Shark at lostspecies.org.