Which warrants more fear—sharks, or humanity?
By Xiao Xuan, 23J19
(CW: Article contains images and/or descriptions that may be disturbing to some readers.)
Has younger-you ever visited the lapping waves during beach trips? Did your parents seize the chance to tease and terrify you with claims of man-eating sharks lurking in the very waters you were playing in? Or have you watched Jaws, or Finding Nemo?
Many of you have surely seen a show or two featuring sharks as ‘terrorists’ of the ocean, petrifying humans and fishes alike. The fear of sharks have, since our childhood, silently but surely embedded itself into our hearts.
Our fear cannot be blamed, for the bad reputation sharks have established is seemingly justified by their huge, jagged fangs and their chasm of a mouth, and repeatedly reinforced by numerous films and shows.
Finding Nemo (2003) movie poster.
Photograph of a shark. Look at those rows and rows of teeth! (Source: SEA LiFE Sydney Aquarium)
However, here comes the irony—
—We have wronged them, in more ways than one.
For all the horrifying tales spun by our art and media, actual shark attacks on humans are much rarer than we think. In fact, many of these demonised fish are actually the ones going through hellish torture at humans’ greedy hands as we speak.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, Inc. (WWF), it is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed annually by humans, whether deliberately or accidentally, directly or indirectly. That converts to about more than 11,000 sharks killed every hour. In harrowing contrast, the average number of human fatalities due to unprovoked shark attacks is only 6 annually.
There are reasons behind why each of these statistics look so big and so small respectively. I am sure many have at least heard of the practice of shark-finning, and some of you may even know a thing or two about how it is carried out: fishermen haul caught sharks—alive at that point and very much conscious still—out of the water and onto their boats, restrain them, and proceed to cut off all their fins with swift blades.
Afterwards, the maimed, bleeding sharks are thrown back into the ocean without a second thought, the fishermen uncaring to how the victims will next suffer a slow, agonising death from suffocation and starvation. Shark-finning is definitely not the only major reason for decline in shark population, but it is indeed a cruel factor.
A shark after finning. Image credit: Dive Against Debris (Organisation)
Shark fins drying in the sun. Image credit: NPR
On the other hand, not a lot of people get unpromptedly attacked by sharks because humans are not part of their 'cuisine'. Any attacks more likely stemmed from sharks having mistaken humans for fishes than from them actively seeking us out as prey.
It seems like they do not deserve such a bad reputation at all; it is the sharks, if they had hands, who should be the ones painting horrid (but this time, largely justified) pictures of humans.
Why should we care?
Even after reading the article, some of us may still only hold sympathy on the surface level, because “at the end of the day, what has the plight of some scary-looking fish got to do with someone who lives on urban land, like me?”
Unfortunately for these pragmatic people, the survival of sharks is crucial to maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem, and the health of the ocean affects us, too.
As top predators, sharks help maintain the stability of the various populations of oceanic fishes. If these top predators go extinct, we humans may eventually end up with a “sick” ocean, reduced ocean biodiversity, and much fewer fishes to eat.
Imagine how sad it would be if we or future generations can never enjoy delicacies like Chili Crabs or Sashimi anymore, or if we can only get a taste of them after brutalising our wallets after seafood supply plummets! It would be so much bleaker a world, especially for food-enthusiasts, which I bet many of us are.
That is not to mention, even if sharks were to do absolutely nothing for the environment and for us—which I emphasise is not the case—from a moral standpoint, animal cruelty so severe and on such a large scale should never, ever be treated with apathy.
How can we care?
Now that this article has hopefully raised awareness of and garnered more empathy about this issue, some of you may be wondering how ordinary people like you and I could possibly change anything, even if we cared. In my opinion, besides the obvious move to never indulge in goods like shark fin soup, making a change is actually really simple—
Talk about it, spread the word! Mention it in conversations with friends and family, blog about it on social media or other platforms. Even what I am doing now—writing this article as a CCA assignment and posting it on RVTribune—is already helping the cause, because I am spreading the word to you!
If every one of us:
Refrains from indulging in products that contain any shark parts as raw material,
Spares a few thoughts and some time to talk about this issue (however fleetingly or passionately) with as many people as possible, and
Encourage them to do the same,
Then not only the consumer demand driving the exploitation of sharks would decrease by a meaningful extent, but more would also be aware of this issue and continue to spread the word.
Surely, someone capable out there will be inspired to help put a stop to this atrocity, and bring about substantial change to save the sharks and our ocean.
Wouldn't it be nice for us to reel in humans, for a change?