Late last year there was a unfortunate Tiger Shark attack/encounter at Cocos Island. Following the reports I was somewhat inspired to understand more about sharks behavior. These are my thoughts.
A Sharks Behavior
Sharks, over 400 million years, have remained relatively unchanged. This means that they are near “genetic perfection” and primed to do what they do best. This is not to hunt or attack but to survive. It just so happens that their way of surviving can involve attacks or aggressive behavior. But, what we can’t let happen, is allow their rare aggressive behavior to overshadow what they really are. Beautiful creatures, that have earned a place in this world just like the rest of us did. This is through surviving and evolving.
So, if anything they deserve some credit and respect.
Hunting for Sharks
Sharks, as most of us know, are being hunted, for their oils and fins. Shark finning is a huge problem and many charities like Oceana Headquarters and Project AWARE, affiliated with PADI, are working hard to prevent it. Shark finning involves, taking the dorsal fin and or the pectoral fins off of a shark. They then toss the still living body of the shark back into the water. The fins are then taken and oils are extracted or the fins are turned into shark fin soup. This is a delicacy primarily consumed in the regions of China and Southern Asia.
Spread the message on Shark Behavior
What many charities are trying to do is spread a message. Even us as divers are telling our clients and students that sharks do not want to hurt us. Though they may be feared by some we need to understand that they’re animals and have hunting habits. Just the same way we did in our primal days tens of thousands of years ago.
It just so happens that now humans are becoming more invasive in their space and a large majority of the population lives in coastal areas. This means that the chances of the shark attack are on the rise for many reasons.
Shark attacks aka Shark Encounters – Why more now?
Shark encounters are becoming more frequent for a number of reasons.
We as humans are huge consumers of fish. Although this may not be the sharks primary source of food, it is a key part of the food chain. When a link in the food chain is broken then the rest falls apart around it.
There’s a lot of research to suggest that sharks are coming closer to the shore. They are therefore closer to where humans are when they’re in the ocean. This is because they’re looking for food.
There’s also other research to suggest that climate change and subsequent ocean temperature change can affect that sharks standard migration pathways.
White Sharks have the ability to have their body temperatures warmer than the surrounding water. Due to the rising ocean temperatures, this makes their navigation more difficult and is pushing them into even colder water regions. This includes places such as Alaska and into the Arctic circle.
There has also been a very high number of Great White sharks around the Southern Coast of California. This is because the coastal region is also a shark nursery. This causes seasonal flocking to the area to breed. This is actually very good news as scientists have seen an increase in the shark and Californian sea lion population. However the reason that sharks are coming closer to the shore is still somewhat unknown, many conservationists have theories and ideas but they are yet to find something concrete.
Another reason that shark sightings might be becoming more frequent is because the way that they’re recorded and surveyed are much more advanced than they used to be. Back in the 50’s and 60’s sightings were registered if there was an attack or through word of mouth from beach goers. Now the methods for shark spotting are much more advanced.
All along coast lines they have lookout stations where people sit in a high tower (normally on a hill or on the side of a mountain), and watch the water below looking out for any dark black shadows. So it could, and the more likely explanation for increased shark sightings is not that there are more sharks, but that they’re just being spotted.
For example in South Africa which, like Australia is notorious for Great White Shark sightings they’re now using drones to spot sharks. This makes them easier to follow because the camera can move with the shark, and identify whether it’s a Great White or a more harmless type of shark.
Summing up my thoughts on shark behaviour.
On the whole though sharks are perfect hunting and killing machines. They’re Apex predators and have been for hundreds of millions of years. They’re like a slice of evolutionary perfection that was created millions of years ago and has remained pretty much unchanged for the entity of that time.
However, they very often do not want to cause us any harm and have showed no active targeted interest in humans. Most of the time unfortunately it’s just a case of being in the wrong place and the wrong time. The reasons are usually defending their young or when they’re hunting.
However we as divers and members of the general public need to remember to preach the message that sharks aren’t at all how they’re portrayed in films and TV shows. Their main goal in their life is not to hurt us, but to live their life. But if we continue to encroach on their environment and life we may, to our detriment lose a truly magnificent creature in the future.