Report by Shark Info
Continuing the column we began in the last Shark Info issue, Dr. A. Godknecht1 answers the most
frequently asked questions directed to Shark Info and the Shark Foundation, in coordination with the
scientific advisory board of the latter.
If you have any queries on a special shark topic simply e-mail or fax us
Fax to +41 1 311 67 22).
- Is there any effective means of scaring off sharks, e.g. in case of ship disasters?
The most effective protection is the "Shark POD", a protective ocean device developed in South Africa.
It is used by divers and protects them by inundating the shark's highly sensitive ampullae of
Lorenzini with a weak electrical field to prevent them from getting close to the diver. However, PODs
are too expensive to be used for the protection of larger numbers of people in the water (for example
in a ship disaster). No effective protection is available in this scenario.
- Statistics compiled by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and Traffic show that about 100
million sharks (approx. 800,000 tons) are killed annually. Which species are especially endangered?
Deep-sea fishers have greatly decimated (mainly in bycatch) high-sea sharks such as blue sharks,
whitetip high-sea sharks or silky sharks.
In Asia whale sharks are caught in an extremely brutal manner and are killed for their meat and fins,
making them a highly endangered species in this region.
In European waters the spiny dogfish sharks (supplier of rolled strip of smoked dogfish, Fish &
Chips) are practically extinct, while the populations in the U.S. are currently protected after years
of fighting the fishery lobby. Meanwhile, the Norwegians have almost completely wiped out the mackerel
sharks in their waters and in the northwestern Atlantic.
The tope or soupfin shark has been practically exterminated in California.
White sharks are also in danger of becoming extinct, being fished not for their meat but because of
man's ego or hate. Their jaws often have a market value of more than CHF 15,000.--!
- Why do so many people fear lions or tigers less than they do sharks?
My personal opinion:
Lions and tigers are mammals, live on land, are warm and furry. This makes them more likeable than
sharks - for humans are more likely to forgive the faux pax of close relatives. The fear of snakes
comes closer to fear of sharks. In our eyes, sharks - similar to fish - are cold and thus "primitive",
"stupid" and "relentless".
Unfortunately, these impressions are false. There are, e.g., warm-blooded sharks, but in particular,
sharks are not primitive, on the contrary, they have adapted themselves optimally to their environment
for more than 400 million years. Nor are they dumb for they manifest a complex social behavior, are
capable of learning and compared to the relationship between their body and brain weight, they have a
brain comparable to that of mammals and birds!
Man's origins are in the Savannah. And from the beginning of his existence he has dared to flee from
such land robbers as lions and tigers, always seeming to find a tree in the immediate area which he
could climb up or hide behind. His survival strategy on land has enjoyed success for a long time.
In the ocean, however, the situation is different for there are no trees there and we can only stay
underwater for a certain amount of time using an oxygen mask. Man is also not the quickest when having
to flee underwater. We know that we are much slower than a shark, substantially slower compared to our
tempo when fleeing from a lion. In addition, underwater visibility is usually much worse than on land,
and on the water's surface it is practically impossible to recognize what goes on underwater.
In other words, humans have a serious disadvantage when it comes to meeting a shark underwater and
this is exactly what our primeval instincts try and tell us to avoid.
Obviously then, especially in our subconscious, we face an almost invisible, optimally adapted hunter
who is much faster and stronger in what to us is a strange environment not optimal for our biological
strategy of fleeing. Our instincts thus signalize a feeling of nausea, our intellect reacts with fear
and we combine both signals, from the subconscious and the conscious with sharks. Fear can stir up
hate, for humans often hate that which threatens them.
May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info