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“Beware of Sharks?” More like “Beware of People!”

Art by Gianna Astorga

Take a moment to visualize something. A shark. A great white shark, swimming through an otherwise empty ocean. Now insert yourself into the equation. You are there, in the big, deep ocean, swimming with the shark. The rest is up to you. What do you think will happen? Will the shark swim at you savagely and tear you limb from limb? Will you scream in fear as you frantically try to swim away? Or are you calm, staying buoyant in the water as you look into the creature’s eyes and a certain understanding passes between the both of you?

Photograph by Gerald Schömbs

Think about your version of this situation, what you think will happen to you. And keep that in your mind.

Sharks have been the subject of so many people's fears and nightmares, so many horror movies including one of the most famous movies of all time, Jaws (which, by the way, you haven’t lived if you haven’t seen). But are these conceptions accurate? Have you ever stopped to think that maybe these dramatizations (for lack of a better term) are not actually how sharks act?

Photograph by Alex Steyn

The Public Eye

To research further the general views of the public, I had many individuals participate in a survey to collect a basic idea of what shark mentality is like, and, quite frankly, was pleasantly surprised by the results: the majority of people who participated in the survey (67.7%) said they either liked or loved sharks. Additionally, even more of the people surveyed (a solid 93.9%) claimed they thought that sharks should be saved and that they were important to their ecosystems (which, by the way, is true).

Moving on, about half (44%) of the people surveyed tended to gravitate towards higher fear of sharks. Although, a solid 4 out of 34 people claimed they had no fear of sharks whatsoever. When asked, for those who were afraid of sharks, why they were afraid, the highest bar was on that of movies or media. Secondly, many said that they did not know why they were afraid, and after that many people had been taught that they were evil.

Photograph by Anton Chernyavskiy

This proves that media, movies, and their portrayals do have a huge effect on people and their shark mentalities. And while many people are not afraid of sharks, there are still those who have been affected by movies and those around them. At this point (based on the many people who said they did not know why they feared sharks), sharks being scary is part of false common knowledge. That is not to say it is anyone’s fault if they have this fear.

However, it is the fault of the society that has drilled into its own the falsehoods that say sharks are man-eaters, mindless killers, and nothing but bloodthirsty carnivores. These things are simply not true.

Photograph by Elaine Brewer

The Truth Behind the Lies

The fact is, the society that decided to turn these lies into an induced false reality is the same society that doesn’t want you to know the truth about their actions. Shark culling (which I will explain later on), shark finning, and just the killing of sharks in general is going on every single day, with more than one shark killed per second.

So, by making movies that villainize sharks, whether they’re as good as Jaws or as terrible as 47 Meters Down, society is causing irrational fears in people that are allowing them to look past the truth in the killing of sharks. Or, rather, have no interest in researching it. These fears and these beliefs have been so ingrained in our society that sharks being evil has been taught to children, some children who will grow up and never swim in the ocean because of a fear that is based on fiction.

Photograph by Ibrahim Rifath

And I’m not trying to say that we should stop making shark movies. They are entertaining and even a part of media culture. But they’ve become the stereotype for all sharks, and their behaviors in these movies have become the expected behaviors of all sharks everywhere.

So, something simple, like adding a disclaimer at the beginning of the film saying that events are purely based on fiction (unless they aren’t) would make all the difference. So many people, seeing this disclaimer, would go into the film knowing none of the things that happen in it are real and walk out of the theater without having gained any irrational fears (of course, shark movies based in reality are a completely different and rare story, though, because of how uncommon these stories are, should still not cause fears).

Photograph by Gerald Schömbs

In truth, sharks do not eat people purposefully. According to the National Ocean Service (and, well, common knowledge), humans are NOT PART OF THEIR NORMAL DIET. So, unless they are provoked or confused, there is no real reason to fear them if you