Sharks are Friends, Not Food

by Matt Forcey

With many shark species on the brink of extinction, a new community of conservation-minded divers and videographers are working to change our perceptions of an animal long demonized in popular culture.  Like many of my generation, I was scared shitless at an early age by the movie Jaws.  I remain to this day inherently fearful of deep, open water.  I can, at anytime, cause myself anxiety with a simple thought… I’m floating there, alone, in the open ocean, my legs and torso hanging exposed beneath the surface of the water, no idea of what might be lurking below, nowhere to hide, any moment now I’m going to feel something large brush by me… ok, that’s enough.  Damn. 

The crazy thing is, I love sharks!  I’m completely fascinated by these perfectly designed, graceful, powerful, intelligent creatures.  Having 30 some odd years to think about this (regularly), I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not the animal itself that propels my fear, but more likely the utterly vulnerable feeling of floating in open water, open to attack by any unknown monsters that have a home court advantage over this floating meat sack. 

Two quick examples to illustrate my point:

While snorkeling off of Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman a few years ago, I somehow found myself in about 40 feet of water, not a reef in site to hide behind.  Now, although there was not a fish to be seen at this particular moment, I was grasped by a breathtaking fear and high-tailed it back to shore like a character from Looney Tunes, leaving sweetie (my wife) floating there shaking her head. 

Compare that to a recent trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  It’s dusk (a time I know sharks are most active) and I’m standing about 100 yards off shore in chest deep water, surf fishing into a school of blue fish that are running parallel to the shore.  And sure enough, about 20 feet in front of me, fishing in the same school as I, is a man in a grey suit.  Using what I learned from The Great Cousteau, I immediately size him up by looking from dorsal to tail fin.  Add another 2-3 feet from dorsal to nose, and I figured he was probably around 8 feet long.  Surprisingly, my reaction wasn’t one of fear at all.  It was more a feeling of amazement.  To this day I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to see him.  Of course, the initial burst of amazement lasted no more that 15 seconds or so until my fishing companions (including sweetie again) and I simultaneously decided that we were tired of fishing and walked cautiously backwards to the beach.

Since we rarely know where they are, other than “out there somewhere”, we have developed an omnipresent view of the shark.  The unfortunate reality is that each year mankind takes a substantial whack out of the worldwide shark population, and your chance of ever seeing a shark in the wild is becoming increasingly unlikely. 

In 2009, commercial fishing operations killed over 100 million sharks, many just for their fins.  In a study funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, scientists estimated that, since the 1970’s alone, the shark population off the U.S. eastern seaboard has plummeted by as much as 80%, with species such as the Blue shark losing 90% of their population in the past 10 years alone.  The same study maintains that in other areas, such as the Mediterranean Sea, commercial fishing has reduced shark populations 97% over the last 200 years.  200 years is a long time you say, but remember that we’re talking about an animal that has been an apex predator in the oceans for the last 420 million years (that’s before the dinosaurs). 

In an effort to promote our further understanding of these creatures and the impact mankind is having on the oceans, underwater videographer Joe Romeiro, shares with us a series of truly captivating videos, taking us face to face with sharks in their natural habitats.  Joe’s latest video, “Nina Salerosa”,   was filmed in the Bahamas with renown dive master Christina Zenato.  The reef sharks with whom they visit, through their graceful play, help capsize the perception of sharks as mindless, randomly aggressive killers.  Please share this video with your friends and check out the rest of Joe’s work on his YouTube channel by clicking here.

Thank you Lynn for sharing this video with me!

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4 Responses to “Sharks are Friends, Not Food”

  1. Thanks so much for this thoughtful post on sharks. I share your fear, except mine is more ridiculous – thinking about sharks makes me nervous in swimming pools! But I worry for their future.

  2. Joe, it’s good to know my crazy has company. And I have to admit, it was only recently that I stopped feeling any anxiety in the deep end of a swimming pool. Then came the Sept. 30th episode of CSI, where a girl is attacked by a shark in the pool at the Golden Nugget. Here’s the clip… sorry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXep7SPg32c

    It truly is a tragedy what the collective “we” have done to our oceans in such a short period of time. If you’re so inclined, please forward a link to this article to your friends and family. Knowledge is power.

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