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Shark Tales: Sorting Fact From Fiction

Shark Tales: Sorting Fact From Fiction

What do scientists know about the danger of shark attacks?

Shark Tales: Sorting Fact From Fiction

Friday, July 17, 2015 - 19:45

Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- Have you heard the shark tales that people are telling lately? There are some real whoppers making the rounds in the news and on social media. 

Should beach-goers beware? Is the ocean safe? What's fact and what's fiction?

Since June, there have been approximately eight shark attacks off of the North and South Carolina coasts. This number is higher than usual and is much farther north than the shark attack capital of the world, Volusia County, Florida.  

The county regularly leads the world in shark bites or attacks with a total of 10 in 2014. While most people have never personally seen a shark in the ocean, experts say that during the course of a lifetime of swimming in the ocean, at some point, swimmers are probably within 10 feet of a shark!

But contrary to popular belief, sharks generally do not prey on people nor do they typically seek out or attack humans. "They eat and they eat and they eat and they make love and they eat and eat and make love and basically that's their entire life," said George Burgess, biologist at the University of Florida.

From a shark's perspective a swimmer looks indistinguishable from a seal or turtle that they would normally eat and when a shark makes that mistake, it adds to some people's opinion that sharks are the world's deadliest animal.  The fact is people are more likely to be killed by hornets, wasps, bees or even dogs than a shark

One thing that is true is that sharks do have an insatiable appetite. They can devour 11 tons of food a year.  Some shark fetuses (yes, many types of sharks grow within the mother's body before birth) even eat each other before they're born.  Some sharks do it for the competitive advantage of being the only child and some do it for the nutrients. While recent headlines have made the public more aware of the times that a shark bit a person, but the public may be unaware of how humans are taking a bite out of the shark population.

"Each year about six humans are killed by sharks worldwide. By contrast, humans are killing anywhere from 35 to 75 million sharks a year," said Burgess.

People who are angling for a photo are contributing to the death of sharks, either directly, or often unknowingly. Their actions can pollute shark habitats and killing the shark's food supply. Even though sharks were swimming the seas before dinosaurs roamed the earth, the human impact has had a detrimental effect but there is hope.

"White sharks are now a protected species in the United States and you’re not allowed to kill them," said Burgess. 

Get Inside The Science:

There’s Still Plenty Of Great White Sharks! Whew!

George Burgess, Florida Program for Shark Research

Threats To Sharks Threaten Entire Ecosystems

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Author Bio & Story Archive

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California.  She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

I’ve dedicated my time to reporting and producing stories focused on medical, science and technology. I created a nationally award winning series dedicated to promoting women and their great accomplishments.  Now I’ve taken that expertise outside the traditional TV news format and broadened the viewership to people around the world.