Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  05. 08. 2019

So far there hasn’t been a repeat of the Czech teacher attacked by a shark in the Adriatic. However, sharks are once again circling the media waters in abundance. Just as it was last year, two years ago, or, for that matter, twenty years ago, the threat they pose to holidaymakers at seaside resorts is once again being dissected. But, in contrast, who writes and sends reports on how dangerous people are to sharks? The loss ratio is about 1 to 10,000,000.

John Singleton Copley’s famous painting “Watson and the Shark”. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C. John Singleton Copley’s famous painting “Watson and the Shark”. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.

These are incredible figures. Turning them into an infographic makes the difference between them even more striking. Several human silhouettes, 11,416 shark icons under each one – with the explanation that this is the number of human casualties per year compared to the number of sharks killed in a single hour.

Despite all the frightening stories, the level of danger sharks pose to humans is virtually negligible (I stress that statistically; I certainly do not want to demean the tragedy of cases where people have been killed or mutilated by sharks). Sharks lag far behind not just malaria-carrying mosquitoes (about 500,000 victims per year), venomous snakes (100,000) or crocodiles (1000), but also dogs and bees. To be precise, last year a total of five fatal shark attacks against humans were reported, four of which were unprovoked. They occurred in the US, Brazil, Australia and Egypt. (Unfortunately, in the latter case, the victim was a Czech tourist.)

In contrast, the number of sharks killed by humans is most often reported as one hundred million per year. One hundred million! This inaccurate figure is based on the exact calculation of 11,416 sharks caught per hour, which I mentioned above in connection with the impressive infographic. This rounded estimate of one hundred million sharks caught per year, published in 2013, is criticized by many, who give other figures, both lower and higher. However, no one doubts that tens of millions of sharks are killed year after year. Maybe twenty-six million, maybe forty, maybe seventy-three…

This huge and totally unsustainable catch is mainly due to the demand for shark fins, which are used to make a traditional soup in East Asia. The sharks are caught, their fins are often cut off whilst they’re alive and then they are thrown back into the sea, mutilated and bleeding. Despite all the bans and awareness-raising efforts, the demand for shark fins is still enormous – and the number of sharks in the seas and oceans is dwindling rapidly. The International Union for Conservation of Nature registers 482 shark species, of which they don’t have relevant information on two hundred species and 78 are considered to be endangered.

The bell is tolling for sharks, as it is for many other organisms.

Published in the Czech daily MF Dnes.