Imagine if one day in a hundred years or so, otters were seen as vicious predators. The idea itself is laughable—but so was the idea of a shark seriously injuring a person, until after the attacks of 1916. - Ayo Thomas, 11th grade
Sharks have been hunted by humans for hundreds of years with very little pushback. The reason is simple: people just don’t find them cute enough to save. Many people are aware of the crisis that polar bears currently face but not many know about the near extinction of numerous species of sharks—including the whale shark, the angel shark, and the incredibly unpopular great white.
Movies like Jaws and The Meg contribute to the generalized idea that sharks are incredibly dangerous to humans—when in reality you have a higher chance of being in a car accident, or even a plane crash. Many sharks like the whale shark, which don’t have teeth large enough to hurt anything bigger than a shrimp, and the leopard shark, which are know as an incredibly friendly breed, don’t even pose a threat to humans. Furthermore, sharks that even have a chance of harming a person don’t normally come close enough to shore to do so, like the Great White or the hammerhead. With all of the pollution in the water and overfishing, many sharks and other marine predators are having to go to extreme lengths to find food.
A series of attacks along the Jersey shore in 1916 were the cause of a lot of anti-shark propaganda. (Jersey Shore Shark Attacks) There were four deaths and one shark-related attack where the victim survived. Everyone near the shore was terrified of the killer shark and many people were going out on boats to hunt the so-called “man-eater”.
One woman claimed to thrash around in the water to scare the shark away when that course of action is highly discouraged by experts. Another man allegedly beat a shark with an oar. Sightings like these can be attributed to the atmosphere of terror surrounding the Jersey shark attacks, as fear can cause people to see things. Prior to 1916, sharks were seen as mostly harmless in more temperate waters, which is hard to believe given the bad reputation that they now have.
Imagine if one day in a hundred years or so, otters were seen as vicious predators. The idea itself is laughable—but so was the idea of a shark seriously injuring a person, until after the attacks of 1916. However even without the anti-shark propaganda, they will likely never be as popular as otters just because they aren’t considered cute. The idea of cuteness is ingrained in our brains as a way to prevent the abandonment of infants. (The Science of Cuteness) This does mean that we also find other animals, particularly baby ones, cute for a number of reasons.
The traditional big eyes and small faces can be found in many land animals but they are very rarely found in the ocean. Because the ocean has a much more varied environment, the appearance of the animals found there is vastly different from what we are used to. That being said, most people pay much less attention to what goes on in the ocean because they just don’t live close enough to care. Despite the fact that water covers more than seventy percent of our planet, most of us aren’t invested in the lives of the animals and plants that live in it.
Because no one is paying attention to the treatment of sharks it has allowed for some incredibly inhuman practices like shark finning. Shark finning involves cutting the fins from the living animal and then throwing them back into the water where they eventually drown from blood in their gills or are eaten by predators. It’s obviously animal cruelty, but for decades most world governments have done very little to stop it. The first piece of legislation banning shark finning in the U.S. was passed in the year 2000 and since then only fourteen states and three U.S territories have banned the horrific practice. (National Geographic)
Despite these laws, there are still establishments, such as the China Gate Restaurant in Los Angeles, that still sell shark fin soup. In many Asian countries shark fin soup is seen as a status symbol and there is a much bigger market than the U.S. shark fin trade. Many different species of sharks have been driven to near extinction by this practice, and other environmental factors that are also the fault of human behavior such as global warming and pollution. Even though they may not be the most attractive animals on the planet, that doesn’t mean they deserve to go extinct.
Regardless of the way we view them, it is our responsibility to conserve the habitats and lives of all of the animals that we share this world with. Sharks have been around for 500 million years and survived five mass extinction events. Out of four hundred shark species over one hundred are currently listed as endangered and yet barely a fifth of U.S. states ban the practice of shark finning. No animal deserves to be treated this way, and the time has come for us to start making an effort to save the ocean and its wildlife, starting with sharks.
The Science of Cute-How do we percive cute? - University of Melbourne
Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916 - Wikipidia
National Geographic-Shark fin is banned in 12 U.S. states - but it's still on the menu - Rachel Fobar