Sharks are probably the most misunderstood ocean predators that suffer from exaggerated reputations, specifically as man-eaters.
However, the reality is that sharks rarely target humans, and most shark species are not dangerous at all. This article will debunk 16 common myths and misconceptions about sharks to clear up the air and hopefully help in the conservation of this magnificent species.
Myth 1: Sharks are man-eaters
Reality: Of over 500 shark species, only a few large sharks like great whites, tiger sharks, and bull sharks have been known to attack humans occasionally. Sharks do not intentionally hunt people. Shark attacks on humans are extremely rare, with about five fatalities per year worldwide.
Summary of Shark Attack Risks to Humans
|Shark Species||Risk Level||Explanation|
|Great White Shark||Very High||Responsible for most human fatalities due to size and propensity to feed on marine mammals. May mistake humans for seals/sea lions.|
|Tiger Shark||High||Large size, indiscriminate diet, and coastal habitat raise risk. Known to occasionally attack humans.|
|Bull Shark||High||The large size but timid nature and lack of human fatalities make risk low.|
|Mako Shark||Moderate||Fast speed and large teeth can lead to severe injuries. Unprovoked attacks are rare.|
|Hammerhead Sharks||Low||Despite their massive size, whale sharks are filter feeders and pose no threat. No attacks ever reported.|
|Nurse Shark||Very Low||Small teeth, docile temperament and no known fatal attacks make nurse sharks very low risk.|
|Whale Shark||None||Small size, skittish nature, and lack of aggression make the risk negligible.|
|Leopard Shark||None||Large size, indiscriminate diet, and coastal habitat raise risk. Known to attack humans occasionally.|
Myth 2: Sharks must constantly swim, or they’ll die
Reality: This is only true for certain pelagic shark species like the great white, mako, and salmon shark that require constant water flow over their gills to breathe. However, many other sharks, like nurse sharks, can actively pump water over their gills and rest on the seafloor.
Myth 3: Sharks have poor vision
Reality: Most sharks have excellent vision and can see well, even in dark or murky waters. Their eyes are adapted for sensitivity over color distinction. Shark night vision is superior to human eyesight.
Myth 4: Sharks can smell a drop of blood from miles away
Reality: Sharks do have an extremely sensitive sense of smell and can detect tiny concentrations of blood and oils. However, it is unlikely they could smell a few drops from miles away. Their sense of smell is more effective at close ranges.
Myth 5: Sharks don’t get cancer
Reality: Sharks have below-average cancer rates but are not completely immune. There are a few documented cases of sharks with tumors. Their cancer resistance stems from robust immune systems and wound-healing capabilities.
Myth 6: Sharks must keep swimming forward
Reality: Many sharks can swim forward, backward, up, down, and even hover in place. Only certain pelagic sharks, like salmon sharks, must swim continuously to breathe and cannot hover.
Myth 7: All sharks are loners
Reality: Many sharks are solitary and swim alone frequently. However, some species like scalloped hammerheads, are highly social, forming large seasonal mating schools and migrating together.
Myth 8: Sharks attack out of hunger or vengeance
Reality: Most shark attacks are cases of mistaken identity. Sharks may bite swimming humans out of curiosity but do not intentionally seek revenge on humans.
Myth 9: Poking a shark’s eye will deter an attack
Reality: Attempting to poke a shark’s eye will likely provoke the animal and cause it to retaliate aggressively. Fighting back with improvised weapons may help deter an attack.
Myth 10: Sharks do not play an important role in the ocean
Reality: As apex predators, sharks help maintain balance in marine ecosystems by preying on weak and diseased animals. They also scavenge dead animals and recycle nutrients.
Myth 11: Sharks have limitless supplies of teeth
Reality: Sharks constantly shed teeth and grow new ones throughout their lives. However, they do not have an endless supply and can run out of replacement teeth as they age.
Myth 12: All sharks give live birth
Reality: Many sharks give live birth, but some species lay eggs. Ovoviviparous sharks hatch eggs inside the mother’s body. Oviparous sharks lay eggs that hatch outside her body.
Myth 13: Sharks are living fossils, unchanged for millions of years
Reality: Modern sharks share ancestry with ancient forms but have evolved significantly over time. Extinct shark species were very different from today’s sharks.
Myth 14: Sharks can flip turtles to immobilize them
Reality: Footage shows sharks occasionally flipping turtles while feeding, but there is no evidence this is an intentional hunting strategy. Turtles may be accidentally flipped by intense shark activity.
Myth 15: Sharks can live in freshwater
Reality: A few shark species like bull sharks can temporarily enter freshwater rivers and lakes but still require high salt levels. True freshwater sharks do not exist.
Myth 16: Electronic deterrent devices effectively repel shark attacks
Reality: Personal electronic shark deterrents have limited effectiveness and cannot prevent a determined attack. Strong electric fields may repel curious sharks from initial approaches.
In summary, sharks continue to be misunderstood, but learning the facts about them can help dispel exaggerated fears that lead to overfishing and abuse. With increased knowledge, we can coexist safely with these captivating ocean predators that play vital ecological roles.