January 16, 2009

Sharks Populations Decreasing, Attacks on the Rise

The three shark attacks in Australia this week has created a "Jaws" media frenzy, but in actuality, sharks are more in danger in the ocean than humans.

Sharks are fierce, unmatched predators, until humans embark on the ocean.

Commercial fishing and shark fin soup kills 100 million sharks, even endangered sharks, around the world each year, announced the Shark Research Institute in Australia.

Ironically, sharks do not enjoy eating humans. Hardly any shark attacks entail sharks consuming humans, unlike equally dangerous lions, tigers and bears. Oh my.

"Most of the incidents in the (Florida-based) global shark attack file have nothing to do with predation," posted the Institute on its website (www.auscyber.net).

Sharks find that humans are bony and not fat enough. Sharks use an assortment of sensors to find prey and a nibble will determine if they have discovered a good meal.

Normally a shark will bite a human and then swim away. Regrettably for humans, sharks are huge, so a small nibble can mean death from blood loss.

"Sharks are opportunistic feeders. They hear us in the water, we sound like a thrashing fish or animal in the water, and they just react to that instinctively and go to take a bite," marine analyst Greg Pickering said Wednesday.

The newest figures released by the International Shark Attack File show that there was only one fatal shark attack in 2007. The total number of deaths from 2000 to 2007 was only 5 a year.

"You have more chance of being killed driving to the beach," said John West, curator of the Australian Shark Attack File at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.

Actually, the amount of lethal attacks has decreased in the 20th century, from beach safety, medical treatment and public consciousness of shark habitats.

The majority of shark attacks occur in North American waters.

There have only been 56 deadly shark incidents in Australia in 50 years, an average of only 1 a year, noted the Australian Shark Attack File.

The latest attack happened in December 2008, when a Great White bit a 51-year-old man during his snorkeling trip in Western Australia.

Shark attacks have increased worldwide, but the International Shark Attack File says that this does not mean that sharks are on a killing rampage.

"As the world population continues its upsurge and interest in aquatic recreation concurrently rises, we realistically should expect increases in the number of shark attacks," says the file on its website (www.flmnh.ufl.edu).

The shark population is actually waning, hypothetically dropping the opportunity of a shark-human meeting.

"As a result, short-term trends in the number of shark attacks, up or down, must be viewed with caution," says the file.

If shark numbers are decreasing, then why are there extra shark sightings in Australia's beaches? Surfwatch Australia, which carries out aerial patrols of Sydney beaches, approximates that shark sightings have increased 50 to 80 percent.

Wildlife officials say clearer waters means sharks are looking for food closer to shores. Sydney beaches were shut down this month when hammerheads began eating squid close to swimmers.

There are two dozen shark species that are labeled potentially deadly to humans due to mass and teeth size. The Great White, Bull, Tiger and Hammerhead are considered the most violent and are to blame for most attacks in Australia.

There are 30 sharks put on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's threatened species list thus far.

"Sharks need our help now and we cannot let our fear push them to the brink of extinction," says Ben Birt, from Australia's Nature Conservation Council, which has spearheaded a "Save Our Last Sharks" campaign.


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Taronga Zoo