It's Shaaark Week!


Watch out! It's the "man-eater" Great white shark! / Credit: Jurek Biegus via Flickr

It’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, which means more terrifying depictions of the “man-eating” beast that the public fears to no end. But all true conservationists, like January Jones, know that in reality, sharks should be afraid of us. As many as 73 million are killed each year, many simply for their fins to make shark fin soup.

A recent study in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records reported 38 sightings of great white sharks in the gulfs of California and Mexico. The researchers examined the stomach contents of some captured great whites and found bottlenose dolphins, whale remains, and California sea lions—but not a bit of a human. In fact, humans are more than 30 times more likely to be killed by lightning than by a shark. The study also reported a large number of newborns and pregnant females in the Gulf of California, suggesting that the region is a possible breeding ground. While the Mexican government prohibits shark hunting, the enforcement is lax, making this a risky area for young shark populations.

Sometimes, it’s the sharks themselves that are defenseless. While frequently portrayed as an apex predator, that’s not always the case. Sharks are frequently the victims of human hunting. In fact, even among other animals, they are not always king. Here is an incredible video of an octopus attacking a dogfish shark. Can you guess who wins?


Great white sharks can be quite gentle sometimes / Credit: Jimmy Hall at Hawaii Shark Encounters

Meanwhile, as swimmers attempt record-breaking ocean swims, it’s the sharks that are actually nabbing the headlines. Penny Palfrey set a world record by swimming for over 40 hours in the ocean this past June, but along the way three Oceanic whitetip sharks swimming nearby were reportedly killed as a protective measure. The whitetip is a species listed as vulnerable worldwide and critically endangered in some areas. Now another ocean swimmer, Diana Nyad, seeks to shatter that record in a swim from Cuba to Florida—without killing any sharks. She makes it clear that no sharks will be harmed in her 60 hour journey from Cuba to Florida. How will she accomplish this? Sharks can sense electriconic signals, so her crew will send out electric signals that will annoy the sharks, making them swim away.

Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is giving these powerful fish plenty of attention this week. But at the end of all its fearsome footage, remember that sometimes these creatures are so gentle, you can even swim beside them.