It's August, and you know what that means — it's not the dog days but the shark days of summer, as the Discovery Channel devotes an entire week of programming to everyone's favorite piscine apex predator. Last year's premiere drew more than 21 million viewers and more than 2.6 million people tweeted at the @SharkWeek account. This year's "Shark Week," the 26th installment of the series, features a Shark After Dark talk show, a first for the TV event.
And while we (hopefully) all learned long ago that sharks aren't the man-eating machines they were made out to be in Jaws and its subsequent sequels, that doesn't mean the shark hype machine has got all its facts right. Here are the six biggest lies about sharks.
Just kidding, despite what Syfy’s Sharknado would like us to believe.
These two locations seem to be associated with shark attacks the most, perhaps because of the great-white centric focus of "Shark Week." But North America drew more than 50% of 2012's 80 unprovoked shark attacks, as defined by ISAF, the International Shark Attack File. A whopping 26 of those took place off the coast of Florida. Australia by comparison had 14 attacks. South Africa had four, less than California or even South Carolina, who tied with five apiece. It looks like America is the land of the free and the home of the brave — and sharks.
Lay off the "Air Jaws" for a moment. Sharks have an image problem — the majority of media coverage of sharks involves attacks on humans, which is misleading considering how rare these attacks are. Way back in 1987, there were a total of 13 shark injuries in the United States, according to the ISAF. In comparison, there were 8,064 dog bite injuries and human bite injuries in New York City that same year. Lesson learned: Man's best friend — and man himself — is more likely to bite than any Jaws wannabe.
Yes, Animal Planet recognizes the great white as the big kahuna in its list of "The 10 Most Dangerous Sharks." But several other shark species — most notably bull sharks and tiger sharks, numbers two and three, respectively, on the list — have earned their respect in the water as well.
Oceana, an organization dedicated to protecting the world's oceans, states only about a dozen of the roughly 500 known shark species are potentially dangerous to humans. And of those dozen sharks, three —white, bull, and tiger sharks — are responsible for more than half of recorded shark attacks on people.
We may devote a week every summer to them, but aside from that, our fishy friends have drawn the short end of the stick in the human-shark relationship. For every one human killed by sharks, approximately 25 million sharks are killed by humans. At roughly 100 million sharks a year, we have a long way to go before we truly respect these predators — a week of TV a year just isn’t going to cut it.