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5 Biggest shark myths and misconceptions

Whenever someone mentions sharks, it’s almost as if it instantly triggers the Jaws theme music in your head. But if there's anything we've learnt from movies, it's that frogs don’t turn into princes, you can’t make a theme park from dinosaur DNA remnants, and real sharks are nothing like Hollywood sharks…

Ironically, as a result, sharks have become the victims instead of the predators. Seen as dangerous and malicious killers that eat everything they come across, they are now being killed for their fins or otherwise killed under the guise of self-defence.

Here are some of the most common shark myths and misconceptions that simply aren’t true:

The Typical Shark Is Large and Has Razor-sharp Teeth

With over 400 different species of sharks, there isn’t really something like a typical shark. Yes, there are species like the great white, bull, or tiger shark that are apex predators and do pose a threat (because they’re at the top of the food chain), but there are others who completely go against the common perception of sharks. The horn shark, for example, has molar-like teeth that are used to crush hard-shelled prey.

All Sharks Will Eat and/or Attack You

Of the hundreds of shark species that exist, only about a dozen are considered dangerous. In fact, sharks kill about six people every year, compared to other animals like hippos that kill 3 000, malaria-carrying mosquitoes that cause 600 000 deaths per year, and cows that kill 40 people per year. Sharks do not eat human flesh to sustain themselves and they don’t seek out people. Most shark attacks occur because a shark has mistaken a human for actual prey like a seal, and these bites are exploratory bites – to determine whether what they’re biting into is food. The majority of shark species eat fish or invertebrates.

Sharks Can’t Be Harmed

It’s an unfortunate truth that global shark populations are in rapid decline due to illegal and unregulated fishing, as well as the popularity of shark fin soup. Sharks are similar to humans in the sense that they take many years to reach the stage of procreation and that they produce relatively few young. This means that they simply can’t replenish their numbers as fast as they are declining.

They Need To Keep Moving To Stay Alive

Only about two dozen shark species (including great whites, whale sharks and mako sharks) need constant movement to stay alive. This is because they are obligate ram ventilators – meaning they breathe by passing water through their opened mouths and over their gills while swimming. However, while they need to keep moving to breathe, they can rest for brief periods of time. The remaining shark species breathe through a process called buccal pumping, which entails using cheek muscles to filter water into their mouths and over their gills. All these sharks can all alternate between activity and rest.

Sharks Aren’t Important To The Marine Ecosystem

Contrary to popular belief, sharks are intelligent creatures that are very aware of their environment, and they form an integral part of the ocean’s ecosystem. If you love playing in the waves, cruising around on ships and yachts, or even just admiring the ocean view, you love sharks. The species that are atop the food chain regulate other marine animal populations. Others that feed on sick and/or weak marine life help keep prey populations healthy. At the end of the day, it comes down to your responsibility to educate yourself about the marine animals you're diving with. When you do so, your awareness will quickly turn into enjoyment the moment you spot your next shark underwater.

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