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Fear of Sharks

Updated on November 17, 2013

The Devil of the Deep

There is a creature alive today who has survived millions of years of evolution...without change, without passion and without logic. It lives to kill. A mindless eating machine. It will attack and eat anything. It is as if God created the devil and gave him...JAWS.

The hyperbole-driven quote above is from the classic 1975 Spielberg monster hit, Jaws...the film that put a serious dampener on ocean swimming for at least one generation of filmgoers. It's not just Jaws either..sharks have had a bad rap in film generally. If Hollywood is to be believed they are evil incarnate, roaming the seas like merciless psychopaths, occasionally scanning the shallows with their soulless, black beady eyes - looking for a kid on a lilo to chomp.

Yet rationally, we have much more to fear from the mosquito, whose disease carrying capacities have far outweighed any damage done to the human species by sharks. A single mosquito however, just isn't a terrifying image and fails to invade the psyche in the same way as a shark.

A fear of sharks is called galeophobia and I have a mild to medium dose of it. I'm not as far gone as some sufferers, whose terror extends to being frozen with fear when they're sitting on the beach or having a milkshake at a foreshore cafe.. I actually have to be in the water for that little wildcat of fear to start clawing at me. Nor am I exactly in terror (unless I spot a moving shadow)- it's more a case of feeling just enough anxiety to take the edge off my enjoyment of the water.

Avoiding a Shark Attack

Over the years I've taken heed of the advice given by fellow galeophobes....such as not to wear red swimsuit, don't swim with a dog, don't swim with a suntan because the white underflesh will make you look like a delicious, big juicy fish...and under no circumstances go into the water with a cut. Incredibly, a shark can detect a single drop of blood in 25 million drops of sea water.. I'm also careful never to be the one fartherest out in the water and definitely not the only swimmer in the doesn't want to be the only dish left at the smorgasboard.

If however, despite these precautions, you do find yourself confronted with a set of gnashing shark teeth and have time to react (not always possible, they can sneak up)- stay calm (yeah right) and go for the eyes, as along with the gills they're the most vulnerable part of the shark, though some survivors claim a punch in the shark's nose saved them. For the sake of my ecological integrity, I feel obliged to note here that sharks are a protected species and I would only harm one in self-defence...never gratuitously. I have the same attitude toward snakes - live and let live, except when threatened.

Of course my fears are out of proportion...but phobias are like that. I'm aware that I probably have more chance of drowning, being stabbed in the street or breaking my neck tripping over the bean bag than being eaten by a shark. I say 'probably' because the phobic part of my brain doesn't quite believe what I've just typed.


Some Shark Facts

Of the 450 or so species of sharks only 30% are considered dangerous. Experts are keen to emphasize that sharks do not seek out human prey and when they do attack it's usually a case of 'mistaken identity'., although franky I'm not sure that helps much. It's not as though the shark is going to realise its mistake and move on:"Oh pardon me madam, for a moment I thought you were a barracuda...let me just remove my teeth from your thigh and I'll be on my way." It's also not much comfort to hear that 60% of shark attack victims survive. They might survive but in what condition? Armless? Legless? Shattered by post-traumatic stress?

According to the Australian Shark Research Institute there have been 800 reported cases of shark attack since records began in Australia in 1803. This doesn't include commercial and military attack, which would add several more thousand to the list. One example is given of the USS Indianapolis, which, though even as a galeophobe I find hard to believe, lost 879 sailors to sharks. In a master database there are 5000 attacks listed, with additional incidents yet to be added. Of the several species of sharks, some of the offenders implicated in attacks, but not necessarily fatalities, are the white, tiger, bull, shortfin mako, blue, galapagos,carribean reef, dusky, oceanic whitetip, blacktip, grey reef, great hammerhead, broadnose sevengill, bluntnose sixgill, silky, bronze whaler, nurse, spinner, sand tiger, basking, spotted wobbegong and lemon sharks.

I need to keep remembering that my chances of being attacked are extremely low:


Drowning and other beach-related fatalities.....1 in 2 million

Shark attacks....1 in 11.5 million

From the International Shark Attack File

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

My galeophobia is a shame because swimming in the open ocean is one of my favourite things to do. True, sometimes I forget, especially in the surf when the waves are pounding wildy, threatening to rip my swimsuit off. In that situation exhilaration trumps fear and it's only when the waves subside and a stray piece of seaweed brushes against my thigh, that nervousness creeps over me once again.

As a child, I didn't fear sharks at all. Every summer, in blissful ignorance, I used to swim at Phillip Island, right near Seal Rock(which is often covered in sunbaking seals) and I believed the old codger who ran the caravan park when he said "oh there's no sharks around here..the seals scare them away." Often I'd swim right out to a faraway buoy or a boat, until the beach umbrellas on the shoreline became specks in the distance. I didn't even give sharks a second thought. Well..not often.

Shark supermarket...Seal Rock
Shark supermarket...Seal Rock

Of course I've since learnt that, far from scaring them away, there's nothing sharks like more than a juicy seal to digest and over the years, plenty of sharks have been spotted at Phillip Island, including Great Whites. That man was a liar! He merely wanted to reassure the tourists...yet in a way I am grateful to him because at least I had a few years where I could enter the water without being conscious that every shadow and movement might be concealing an eating machine...the devil of the deep.

Rationally then, a large portion of our fear of sharks [and many other things for that matter] is merely a state of mind and not based on a real, justifiable threat. We galeophobes can whip ourselves up into a frenzy of fear just because we suddenly become hyper-conscious that sharks exist.

Shark Fear Survey

On a scale of 1 to 5, how fearful of sharks are you when swimming in the ocean?

See results

A Fine Piece of Work

Sharks are something of an evolutionary masterpiece - they've had plenty of time to get it right. They are in their way, a creature of awesome beauty. It's believed they evolved over 400 million years ago, swimming in prehistoric seas some 100 million years before dinosaurs first roamed the planet. The (thankfully) extinct megadon grew to lengths of fifty-two feet, making the Great White look modest. The largest shark on earth is now the whale shark, still whopping at 40 ft, although fortunately this mega-fish feeds mainly on plankton. The smallest sharks are the dwarf lantern fish and the spined pygmy, growing between 7 and 8 inches in length.

A shark's body is highly streamlined -round in the middle and tapered at both ends, to facilite ease of movement through the water. To further propel and stabilise themselves, they may be equipped with dorsal fins, pectoral fins, tail fins and in some cases, anal fins. Not only are they extremely efficient swimmers, they also have exceptional eyesight that has been adapted to seeing in low light and from great distances. To match their acute sight, they have marvellous senses of hearing, smell and touch.

Great White's Tooth. Note the handy serrated edge.
Great White's Tooth. Note the handy serrated edge.
A sand tiger sharks grin. Could braces have helped here?  Smile for the camera baby
A sand tiger sharks grin. Could braces have helped here? Smile for the camera baby


Sharks never require a dentist as any lost or broken teeth are quickly replaced with new ones. It has been estimated that some sharks may lose 30,000 teeth in one lifetime. The lower teeth are cleverly designed primarily for holding prey, while the upper teeth serve as A-grade chef's knives for carving, chopping, dicing and cutting. Of course not all sharks teeth are alike and the shape and form will depend on the species and their particular diet.

However it's not just their teeth which are so remarkably well designed...sharks also have the most powerful jaws on the planet. A shark bites with its lower jaw first, to secure prey, followed by a snap down from the upper jaw which nicely mangles the meat and with a terrifying jerking back and forth with its head, the shark loosens a piece of meat and swallows.

But...we need them

Sharks are a very important participant in the marine eco-system. For one thing they dispose of weak and diseased fish and thus help to keep the ocean healthier. They also help tp protect reef systems by keeping the population of fish that feed off the reef down. Far from being merely primitive eating machines, they are actually very complex creatures, having developed some extraordinary features to ensure survival. 400 million years is a long time to be around. They're scary but they're necessary.

The most dangerous creature on Earth
The most dangerous creature on Earth


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    • profile image

      David Cole 

      4 years ago

      Hi Jane, as you probably know all photographs are the © of the person who took the picture. The Dolphin under "Aw " above is © of Press Portrait Service and is available to license legally from a number of picture libraries including Alamy and Rex...I could chase you with a nasty legal weasel - but we try not to do that - others including Getty are not so kind they give you a $1,000 bill plus legal costs - please do not do it - you even give others the chance to 'pin' a stolen image. CEO Press Portrait Service.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Brian, thanks very much. Nice to meet another shark-fearer and I'd never heard that term either, until I began the research! You learn something everyday.


    • Brian Burton profile image

      Brian Burton 

      6 years ago

      Detailed, interesting, well written hub. I am also a fellow galeophobes. Had no idea there was a name for it :) Good hub, but still scared to death of sharks. Great tips though. No swimming alone, with dog, etc... Liked, voted up, etc... Nice work!

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hello Alexander,

      On a one to one level I agree with you about the mosquito but in terms of overall harm, the mosquito definitely trumps the shark for damage! Thanks very much for the comment.

      PS. I could never be a surfer because of my I understand perfectly about the worry.

    • Alexander Mark profile image

      Alexander Silvius 

      7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      The video is great, but it was funny that when the narrator proclaimed the shark's ability to swim silently, a sound effect was added to note the passing of a quickly moving shark. Great cinematography though. What I really liked was watching the sharks feed on their natural prey, I've never seen that in any video captured.

      I'm not sure I want to agree that mosquitoes are more dangerous, I would rather deal with a bug you can hear and feel and won't bring almost certain death or maiming everytime you encounter one, than a silent, invisible predator that takes a chunk out of your thigh without warning!

      As a very, very part time surfer, my biggest worry is shark and jellyfish. I'm always grateful to see dolphins because they fight off sharks that may be hovering nearby.

      Great hub, really enjoyed this fascinating look at sharks. They are wonders of nature and even beautiful. Enjoyed the pics too.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hi's so nice to see your face! Thanks for that-it was fun to write...sort of working through my fears.

      It's those teeth...

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 

      7 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Ms. Bovary this was ahoot. I especially enjoyed the short narration of the two images, the dolphin and the shark mouths, hilarious. I have an old school friend who is a shark researcher I am going to send him this link.



    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks warrioRR.

    • warrioRR profile image


      7 years ago from Rawalpindi Pakistan

      Nice informatic creation Jane Bovary

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Lol..ok then, cats, dogs, rats and cockroaches.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      7 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      We'll need our cats and dogs to keep the rats and cockroaches you mention down. These are some of the things we needed cats and dogs for in the first place, to protect our food supply.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Rod, hi and thanks for that great input.I agree with you, finning is terribly cruel and unnecessary.I actually think ordinary fishing with a rod is quite cruel too. A hook in the neck? That can't be fun and fish do feel pain.

      You might be right, that all we end up with are those animals we have some superficial affinity with...then again we might end up with just rats and cockroaches, having concreted over everything else! That's very interesting about the constant motion of sharks...I didn't know that. Yet they can sleep while in perpetual motion? They really are fascinating.

      Who doesn't find dolphins adorable?! Their teeth look so non-threatening...compared to a sharks anyway. I guess they could probably do some damage.

      Micky, I don't eat a lot of meat either but I do enjoy a piece of flake(gummy shark) with my fish'n chips now and then. Thanks for cycling by!

      De Greek..haha...while you might eat everything in sight, you don't fit the "without passion and without logic" description.

      Yes, "let someone else take the hit"...survival of the cowardliest! Thanks for reading.

      Thanks drbj..I guess most people do have a touch of galeophobia and those Hollywood films sure haven't helped.

      Did you ever see the film, "Open Water"...supposedly based on a true story about a couple who were accidentally left in the middle of the ocean after a diving expedition in North Queensland? It was interesting from a psychological pov, watching them go through various emotional stages...ending with surrender to a ring of circling sharks.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      Excellent research, Jane, and a very well-written hub with awesome photos. You and Rod do a masterful job of explaining the importance of sharks in the evolutionary scheme of things, but as you pointed out, they have an extremely "bad rap" to overcome.

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      7 years ago from UK

      Starting with "eating everything in sight", I thought you wre speaking about me in the beginning. But I must take my hat off to you. "I'm also careful never to be the one fartherest out in the water and definitely not the only swimmer in the sea..." Smart. Let someone else take the hit :-))

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      7 years ago

      Jane! I say we eat them first. I'm a vegetarian mostly but I think we should consider eating shark more ...and piranha! But- I agree your hub and Rod Marsden here!

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      7 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      There may come a time when only the creatures that somehow meet our needs will survive. The koala will survive because it is cute and supposedly cuddly. The dog and the cat will survive because they are pets to many of us and when they are not being pets they are useful. Both guard our grain against vermin. Dogs make shepherding in some parts of the world possible, etc. But what about the creatures we don't have good feelings for and we cannot see an immediate use for? The shark falls into this category.

      As you say the shark as a top predator has an important role to place in the ecosystems of our oceans and seas. There are in fact men, marine biologists, who have lost limbs to sharks who today defend the right of the shark to exist in the oceans and seas of our planet.

      Sharks are not crazy about the taste of human. We are not their natural prey. We are sometimes mistaken for seal, etc. Or the shark may be so hungry because of human over fishing that in desperation it will take a piece out of anything to stave off hunger.

      A shark can drown. In order to stay alive a shark must be in constant motion even when asleep in order to breath. Strange but true. Take a shark out of water and it will die. Stop a shark from moving in water such as catching one in a net and it will die.

      I hate the fishermen who take a shark out of the water cut off its fin and then throw the shark back in. Not only does the shark die horribly but it is such a waste of the creature. A proper fisherman would kill the shark properly meaning quickly and then make use of all the shark and not just a small piece. The fishermen who cut off the fins disgust me. They are like the white men who drove the buffalo to extinction. They took the fur and left the meat to rot. Wasteful. Not true hunters at all. What's more, they killed more than they could possibly eat or make practical use of. Disgusting.

      There are shark species facing extinction because they are not pretty, they are not cuddly, and we as humans cannot see an immediate use in keeping them alive. As you say only 30% of shark species are truly dangerous to humans. The thing is all shark species are looking at extinction and even the dangerous 30% are necessary to the survival of fish species we do depend on.

      In the end humans will not be judged by the creatures we keep alive and well because we feel something for them or have an obvious need for them but the species that are indifferent, even hostile to humanity. The shark is such a creature.

      And yes. I am afraid of gray nurses, etc.

      I caught a gummy shark once and had him as a meal. Every part of the shark that could be eaten was eaten. This is the proper attitude of a fisherman and also a hunter. Waste is wrong. You catch something you don't want you throw it back with a good chance for it to survive. That is the way things should be.

      Some good information in your hub.

      And yes. I do find dolphins cute and so do my nieces.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hi angel..thanks for that interesting comment, and I like your attitude! I used to have a bit of a phobia about snakes too (I'm basically a coward), until a couple of years ago when I had an up close and personal encounter with a rearing tiger snake on a bush track. For a moment we had a stare-off then I slowly backed off..and I said under my breath "ok my slithery friend, the bush belongs to you, I'll retreat". Since then I've kind of lost my terror of them, though I still have a healthy respect. So yes...confronting your fears can really help.

    • angel115707 profile image

      Angel Ward 

      7 years ago from Galveston, TX

      I used to hate sharks, so to speak, thinking there were too many and not tolerant of them, that is until I volunteered at Moody Gardens, I admit, fascination over took any fear or hatred I had before! Now I find myself wanting to learn to dive just to be near these sharks, and realize I would rather die of a shark attack than a heart attack from clogged arteries from Mc Donalds because I am too afraid to live my life, after giving birth to two kids and interviewing the divers, I see that its not so bad, the tiger sharks we have are ugly looking but more docile, the little brown sharks swarm and have bitten divers before, I realized its more the shock of it sneaking up on me than the pain itself...we all gotta die some how, so It doesn't bother me now!!

      maybe you should volunteer LOL they usually force phobia people into that ya know...ha ha

      Very cute hub, especially the dolphin part!


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