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Sharks and their future survival through popular media.

Updated on November 21, 2013

The epic 1975 film Jaws, brought the hidden killer beneath the waves to a global audience. The threat of been consumed whole by a wild animal is deeply ingrained within our most primordial fears. The Hollywood blockbuster changed how Shark's were perceived for generations, the book and film demonised a natural predator of the ocean; for many it made the creature that silently stalked the sea a relentless and remorseless killer.

Shark's have been in our Oceans for millions of years, the ancestors of the Great White Shark swam alongside the Dinosaur's in prehistoric times. For a fish to survive the cataclysm that eliminated the majority of life on the planet, only for it to become extinct through the hands of a dominant land based species would be a horrible event. Fortunately it seems that for all the negative propaganda that the film generated, there was a positive side effect. The general interest in the monsters of the deep increased, such was the curiosity generated in the animal many knew little about. It was this interest which held the key to the fishes survival and despite further attempts to paint the fish as creatures with a taste for human flesh over the years; the number of people who wished to learn more never wavered.

It has been nearly Forty years since the film was first released and it seems that the film has generated enough interest to ensure that people have an continued and lasting interest in Sharks as a species.

A Great White Shark off the coast of Mexico.
A Great White Shark off the coast of Mexico. | Source

Recent films that do not help the image of Sharks

Swamp Shark
Ghost Shark
Shark Night

How many Shark's were killed after Jaws was released?

The true answer may never be known, the film did have a negative effect on the Shark populations of the world. After the first Jaws film was released there was a marked increase in the number of people who wished to hunt all types of Sharks. Their reasons for hunting the often mysterious species were varied. Some wished to collect trophies to show off their ability to beat and vanquish a fellow apex predator and some wished to avoid a recreation of the events depicted in the Hollywood epic. The gruesome image of your children happily playing in the surf, only to be taken by a giant monster of the abyss filled many parents with great panic and distress.

Globally the number of fatal Shark attacks pre-Jaws amounted to less than a handful annually, the number of reported deaths could be different to the actual figures. The reason for these differences was due to poor record keeping, ethnic bias in the victims and lack of verification of the attacks.

If one human was attacked then hundreds of local Sharks would be targeted to remove the "Rouge" Killer. The Sharks that were persecuted were usually a species which posed no true threat to the bathers,swimmers or surfers that shared the water with the ancient marine life. In America communities offered large cash rewards for the bodies of large and small Sharks, such was the threat that people believed existed in the salty water that surrounded them.

Sharks by Numbers

$ Amount earned in US for Jaws
The length in feet of one of the largest Great Whites
Current number of recognised varieties of Shark
Percentage of Shark wasted for Shark Fin Soup.
Number of Sharks killed per hour
Year Jaws was published by Peter Benchley

How many types of Shark are there in the Oceans?

There are close to 500 surviving types of Shark in the Oceans, these Sharks can be found in every stretch of water in the world. There are Sharks that have evolved to survive extremely cold temperatures, and species that have evolved to pursue specific prey. The Shark family evolved offshoots of its family tree, the Rays found in our Oceans are a member of the same ancestry as other more well recognised Sharks such as Tiger and Black tipped.

Sharks can be many different sizes, from the massive Whale Shark to the Seven gill sharks that rarely reach the surface of the sea. We have Sharks that swim in fresh and salt water, there are Sharks that are capable of great speeds such as the Mako and Sharks that can survive many hours out of water such as the Blind Shark in Australia.

The many teeth of the Shark has installed fear into man for countless generations.
The many teeth of the Shark has installed fear into man for countless generations. | Source
Shark Fin's stored in the Far East destined for regional dishes.
Shark Fin's stored in the Far East destined for regional dishes. | Source

How many Sharks are killed annually?

Many Sharks are slow to reproduce, Scientific data shows that many species are slow to sexually mature and their offspring faces many challenges to survive. Other predators, pollution and diminishing habitats and food, all have a negative effect on the global Shark populations. To give an accurate number of Sharks killed each year is a difficult task, but the simple answer is to many.

It is estimated that close to 100,000,000 Sharks are killed every year and much of that figure is to fuel the lucrative Shark Fin Soup market in Asia. The amount taken every year and is unsustainable, many Shark species are on the verge of collapse due to the commercial fishing that undermines all attempts at Shark conservation.

Scientific interest in Sharks has helped reduce some of the more draconian policies once adopted to keep Sharks away from the shallow coastal waters of many governments around the world. Shark nets have been modified to help protect many species of Shark and other marine life. Many countries have also set up marine conservation area's with stringent no fishing zones with steep penalties.

How tourism effects the conservation effort.

One of the less well known effects from the increased scientific interest in Sharks since the release of Jaws, is the advent of cage diving to witness the Sharks in their own environment. Safe behind reinforced steel, tourists pay to witness the private life of these relatively secretive creatures of the sea. The tourist industry has adapted to profit from having these fish in the ocean and a loss of their numbers would have a massive effect on tourism. It is somewhat ironic that in the film one of the themes was the effect a killer Shark would have on the prosperity of the fictitious town that the monster stalked.

The Global income from Shark based tourism is estimated at over $500 million a year, and this figure is sure to rise in the coming years with the development of new tourist destinations. Unfortunately there has been suggestions that feeding of Sharks with chumming has lead to some Sharks associating humans with free food. A number of Shark attacks have been linked to this association all over the globe. A major benefit of tourism and conservationists working together is in tagging and observations of the Sharks trends and distribution. It gives a better understanding of the behaviour of endangered species away from their proximity to human interaction by the shoreline.

The film Jaws may have caused an equal amount of good and harm to the Shark population of the planet. The series inspired and frightened a generation of young people. For every Quint the franchise spawned, a Hooper was inspired and their commitment to the cause highlighted the importance of Sharks in marine biodiversity. It is the marine biologists inspired by the film that now educate us all through programs shown though Shark week on the Discovery Channel and in many other factual documentaries.

Sharks will always lurk in the minds of those who live,work and play in the waters of this planet. They will a valuable role in the health of the sea and statistically you are more likely to be injured by a dog than these majestic creatures of the deep. As many who have survived an encounter with Sharks will testify, it is their natural habitat and we are just guests.


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