It may not seem so to surfers in Florida, which boasts more shark attacks than anywhere else on the planet, but the statement is true: "Humans are top predators too, and they pose more of a danger to sharks than sharks do to people."That's the first paragraph of a column written by Wendy B. Dial of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. She adds: "Some anglers love to catch and kill sharks just for the thrill, while people harvest most sharks primarily for their meat, fins, hides and jaws."
In fact, people pose more of a threat to all fish and animals, than those creatures pose to them. As for sharks, Dial credits the International Shark Attack File for this statistic: The odds of a shark attack on a human are 1 in 11.5 million, and of a fatal shark attack, zero in 264.1 million.
Sharks definitely deserve a break. There are 350 different sharks, whose role in the world's oceans is vital, as they provide balance to the marine ecosystem. They're slow to reproduce--for many species it takes 14 years or more--and have only a few pups.
Thus, they're vulnerable to fishing pressure. Yet, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed annually.
In Florida, most attacks are merely bites to the hands and legs of surfers and swimmers: cases of mistaken identity. "If a school of Spanish mackerel swims by, schools of blacktip sharks may follow, seeking dinner," Dial explains. "They are usually to blame in most 'bite-and-release' attacks on humans. They grow to 6-8 feet."
Other sharks blamed for attacks off Florida: spinner sharks, bull sharks and hammerhead sharks.
Concludes Dial: "The ocean is a wild environment for humans (Homo sapiens), but it is home to sharks. As apex predators, sharks maintain the natural balance of life in the sea."
-- Pete Thomas
Photo of lemon shark courtesy of Matthew Potenski/Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission