5 Reasons to Revere, Not Fear, the Shark

The dwarf lantern shark sits in a human hand.
The smallest shark, a dwarf lantern shark, is rarely seen and little-known. (© Chip Clark/Smithsonian Institution)

Over the years, sharks have gotten a bad rap as bloodthirsty man-eaters. We challenge you to take a second look at these magnificent creatures and to fight fear with facts. Here are five reasons to re-think the shark—even the great white, a species that has starred in our horror movies and collective nightmares for decades. It’s time for us to embrace the fact that there’s far more to sharks than their bite.

1. Respect Your Elders 

Sharks have a long and impressive lineage. Ancient sharks were cruising the ocean 400 million years ago—long before dinosaurs roamed on land. Now-extinct ancestors of the great white like the Megalodon evolved more than 20 million years ago. Meet some of the other imposing top predators from ages past.
Preview Artistic rendering of an ancient shark, Helicoprion.

Artistic rendering of the ancient shark Helicoprion that has since been proven incorrect.

(© Mary Parrish/Smithsonian Institution)
 2. The Tables are Turned
Every year, the finds of between 26 and 73 million sharks are traded in markets around the world. Far more are likely killed at sea, though we will never know just how many. The threats we pose are many. By-catch: the accidental killing of sharks in fishing gear intended for other species. Illegal poaching and hunting: selling shark fins for soup and sportfishing for shark-jaw trophies. Nets: placed along coastlines to keep sharks away from beaches. It turns out that sharks have more reason to fear humans than the other way around. That’s why even shark encounter survivors have started speaking up in defense of sharks.
Preview A bowl of traditional shark fin soup.
A bowl of traditional shark fin soup. (bionicgrrrl, Flickr )
3. Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself
While shark encounters do occur, they are actually extremely rare—despite the extensive media coverage they usually receive. In fact, your chances of being the victim of an unprovoked shark encounter are lower than your chances of being struck by lightning, injured in a hunting accident, or even attacked by a domestic dog. Even though the odds are in your favor, sharks are wild animals that must be respected when encountered. (Note we used the term "shark encounter" instead of "shark attack." That's because usually, the sharks aren't trying to hurt people, they are just curious. Read more here.)


4. Risky Behavior
It’s not just comparisons to other traumatic events that can help put the danger of shark attacks in perspective. Things we encounter in everyday life and common activities often pose much greater danger than sharks. For example, you are much more likely to be killed by a car or bicycle accident, a fall, a mishap with fireworks, or even a bad case of the flu than by a shark attack.


5. King of the Food Chain
Sharks have six highly refined senses: smell, hearing, touch, taste, sight, and electromagnetism. These finely honed senses, along with a sleek, torpedo-shaped body, make most sharks highly skilled hunters. They often serve as top predators—keeping populations of prey species in check. Removing them in large numbers can have ripple effects that throw entire ecosystems out of balance.
The History Channel and Smithsonian Institution
September 2011