Villains of the sea

By: Grace Helmke

Killers of the deep.

The sinister shadow that lurks beneath, ready to attack.

The shark has been plunged into the public eye inspiring widespread fear amongst individuals all over the world. Their razor sharp teeth, ready to rip practically anything to shreds, and their silent, menacing movements make for the perfect Hollywood villain. Are these sea-dwelling creatures the fearsome menace that the media portrays? 

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Hollywood has made a significant impact on the general public view of sharks, depicting them as beings of malicious intent. The 1975 film ‘Jaws’ is most likely the source of the widespread fear, and Hollywood’s overuse of the demonized shark character.

Because of its incredible successes all over the nation, creating multiple millions at the box office, and bursting its way into pop culture as a well known classic film series, copycat movies were bound to emerge. It created an endless cycle of Hollywood movies based on the perpetuating stereotype of the vengeful killer shark, leaving America in a fascinated fear. 

This was an incredible shift of thought from what the notion was before the movie was released. It was once believed that sharks were harmless creatures. They stayed out of the way of humans, and humans did the same.

When swimming became a regular recreational activity, sharks were acknowledged very little. Even in the scientific world, they were seen as simply another oceanic inhabitant instead of a test subject with interesting, unusual or even dangerous enough behavior to study. They were simply just there.  But ‘Jaws’ flipped the nation overnight. It created a fearsome character that the public latched onto, and never let go of. 

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Today, because they have captured public attention, sharks are studied extensively. Their behavioral patterns are documented and analyzed religiously by scientists all over the world.

What has come from this research is an enormous amount of myth debunking. The most impactful myth created in Hollywood was that sharks are man eaters. Of course, because that meant that sharks threatened human lives, they became the villain.

But the reality is that sharks do NOT like the taste of human flesh, nor do they actively hunt humans for prey.

In the extremely rare occurrence of a shark attack, it is just a case of mistaken identity in an area of low visibility. They would likely just be giving a bite out of curiosity more than have the desire to make a meal out of a human. That is why there are more documented shark bittings than shark fatalities.

There just isn’t enough blood-vessel-containing-fat on humans for us to be a hearty snack. Even an individual with a high concentration of fat on their body does not have enough fat, that contains blood vessels, for sharks to want them. Our blood and fat isn’t something they enjoy. 

That leads into the next completely false myth that sharks are just mindless killers. While sharks are predatory creatures, they don’t kill anything they see, nor do they constantly think about food. They are incredibly intelligent and evolved creatures, who can navigate themselves across the ocean using only their sense of smell.

Much like humans, sharks are curious and sociable creatures. An experiment was implemented in which two objects were placed in the water: one resembling the shape of a seal, the other a square. The great whites approached the square out of curiosity over the seal shaped object. Instead of biting and attacking the object, they would bump into it, attempting to “feel” what it was. This inquisitive characteristic was exhibited in several experiments, the sharks in question having no intent to harm the object, only discovering what it could be. 

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The news has also impacted our perception of sharks. It seems that anytime there’s a shark attack or shark encounter, it’s plastered all over the news. It makes it seems as though shark attacks are common events happening all the time.

But the truth is, that there is an incredibly low chance of an individual even seeing a shark in the wild, much less attacked.

Let’s put this into perspective. You have about a 1 in 3,784,067 chance of being attacked by a shark. And that counts non-malicious shark encounters as well. When you think about the millions of people that enter the water a day, that number is extremely low. You have a greater chance of being struck by lightning, or winning an Olympic gold medal. 

That being said, do sharks deserve to be so villainized?

The answer is no. They have been wrongfully dubbed a malicious creature due to aggressive news coverage, and Hollywood’s fabrication of the shark villain. Not only do they have an aversion to the taste of humans, they are incredibly intelligent beings capable of high functioning brain activity. They have simply fallen victim to a Hollywood charade. 

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