Scuba Diving

The Truth About Sharks

June 24, 2013

Just like Bill did with his first article, we hope to bring you a fun, entertaining, and informative column dealing with the wonderful world that is SCUBA diving. For this edition, I wanted to talk about one of the most misunderstood creatures of the deep, the SHARK!!!!! *Queue the Jaws music*…


So what exactly is it about a shark that captures our attention? The movie Jaws definitely put the fear of the fin into a lot of people. No doubt about that. So much so that at current estimates, decades after that movie came out, human beings kill upwards of 30 MILLION SHARKS A YEAR!!!!!!!!!! No, that isn’t a typo. THIRTY MILLION… That’s three followed by seven zeroes.

Sadly, it’s all due to believe it or not, a bad rap that was given to sharks many, many years ago and has only been compounded by television programs like “Shark Week”.

Now I know what most people are probably saying to themselves…. “I see shark attacks in the news all the time”. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but yes, it’s true. Shark “attacks” do happen, although nowhere near the numbers that people claim to hear. Most shark attacks are also due to a case of mistaken Identity such as surfers being bitten because from a sharks perspective, they look like a seal. Also, they aren’t “Attacks” but rather an inquisitive bite. I’ll explain below…..

The Truth About Sharks

Here in Florida for example, there MIGHT be 2-3 incidents involving a shark biting someone a year. Let’s look at the general guidelines for HOW these events take place. In almost every single case, it’s not really the fault of the shark. The “attacks” take place around the time that the sharks normally feed. Also, in almost every single case, it involves people splashing around in shallow, murkier water which is where sharks like the Bull Shark like to hunt in. The sharks sense the disruption in the water which to them is a signal of a wounded animal or fish, i.e. their dinner.

Unfortunately, sharks don’t have hands to reach out and touch something to see what it is. In order to determine if something is food, sharks do what they were designed by evolution to do. They bite. It’s simply how they “feel” things out. Now in the case of the Bull Shark, they have a jaw and tooth structure very similar to the Great White. Their teeth are serrated and start wide but come to a curved point. It’s similar in a lot of ways to the “Tooth” on a saw blade.

When the Bull bites down, it scissors its jaw back and forth and shifts its body. This results in both a cutting and tearing of whatever it bites into. In the case of a human being, this causes severe damage to the bite area, generally in and around the areas of the upper thighs. In this area, arteries including the femoral artery are very close to the surface of the skin or not that far into the muscle tissues.

In all cases, the Shark realizes that what it bit into isn’t its natural prey. Whatever you see or hear on shark week, humans don’t taste like chicken to sharks. The shark knows that we don’t taste good and swims off.

Because of the massive damage that is done on that initial bite however, it is important to get the individual that was bitten immediate medical attention. Sometimes, and it is rare that it happens; the “victim” bleeds out and dies. While it is tragic that this happened, it leads to an immediate “All sharks are bad and must be destroyed” mentality.

According to statistics, the rate at which sharks are being destroyed, unless it is stopped, will lead to the extinction of the species within the next 10 to 15 years. Sharks are needed to help maintain the natural balances in our oceans and to help keep the oceans clean. They really are the garbage cleaners of the oceans.

Thankfully, most dive destinations, dive resorts, conservation organizations, scientists, universities, and certification agencies for diving are banding together in an effort to stop the senseless slaughter of sharks. Marine and coastal waters are becoming marine sanctuaries. Many organizations are banning the buying and selling of shark fins which are seen as a delicacy in some parts of the world. Most importantly, awareness and education are being used as a tool to educate people and hopefully help them re-evaluate their opinions of sharks as a whole.

An example of this is a partnership that was started last year by yours truly here at Bill Jackson’s. I was invited by staff at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa to help them reorganize and restructure their Shark Dive experience. After several months of planning and praying, we now offer GROUP dives with the beautiful Sand Tiger Sharks in their main aquarium. We also conduct behind the scenes tours and do our best to educate the public.

This is the best way to allow people to learn that sharks are not creatures we need to fear. Even the programming on Shark Week is changing to reflect that for the longest time, sharks have been misunderstood and that we need to help them survive as a species.

This is the best way to allow people to learn that sharks are not creatures we need to fear. Even the programming on Shark Week is changing to reflect that for the longest time, sharks have been misunderstood and that we need to help them survive as a species.

If you have any questions about sharks, please call a facility like the Florida Aquarium or an organization knowledgeable about sharks in general. It might surprise you what you’ll find out.

Until next time, have fun and safe diving….. And if you’re lucky enough to see a shark, take a picture. 🙂

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