Shark Attack!


Shark Attack!
People kill about 100 million sharks every year. (Actually, that number may be closer to 63 million. That’s right, 63 million.) Sharks kill about 12 people every year.

Sand tiger sharks are a vulnerable species that inhabit coastal zones on every continent except Antarctica. Despite their fearsome appearance, sand tiger sharks rarely attack people. Photograph by Brian J. Skerry, National Geographic

Sand tiger sharks are a vulnerable species that inhabit coastal zones on every continent except Antarctica. Despite their fearsome appearance, sand tiger sharks rarely attack people.
Photograph by Brian J. Skerry, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas:

  • This spectacular infographic compares the number of people killed by sharks in 2011 (the last year reliable data was available) with the number of sharks killed by people every hour. Why do students think people hunt sharks?
    • Food. Fishing is one of the leading food industries in the world. In fact, this infographic was put together to draw attention to one aspect of the fishing industry: Finning. Finning is a fishing method that removes the shark’s fins and often discards the rest of the body. Shark fins are primarily used in shark fin soup, a Chinese dish. Environmentalists take a special objection to finning, because it allows thousands more sharks to be harvested than through (whole-body) fishing alone: the huge storage facilities on fishing vessels can be filled only with fins, not entire fish.
    • Medicine. Finning also contributes to the thriving industry in alternative medicine, which uses natural or traditional ingredients to treat illness or injury. Traditional medicine claims that shark fins have anti-cancer properties. Shark liver oil is another traditional treatment, often used for digestive illnesses. Mainstream medicine also uses sharks for treatment: Shark corneas (the clear front part of the eye) are very similar to human corneas, for example, and have been used in eye surgery for decades. (True fact!!!)
    • Industry: Shark liver oil can be used in machine oil, which lubricates machinery in factories. It is also used in cosmetics.
    • Fashion: There is a huge international market for products containing shark skin and shark teeth. Treated shark skin, also known as shagreen, is similar to leather and used to make belts, purses, and shoes. Shark teeth are used in jewelry and other decorative items.
    • Sport Fishing. Sharks are some of the most valued “trophies” in sport fishing. The most sought-after sharks include tiger sharks, thresher sharks, mako sharks, and, of course, great whites.
  • So, 100 million sharks are killed every year. Why do students think this matters? Read our activity “Keystone Species in Shark Bay” for hints about the marine food web.
    • The activity helps students understand the concept of keystone species—a single species that plays a crucial role in the way an entire ecosystem functions. The activity uses Shark Bay, Australia, as a case study to help students identify the keystone species in that marine ecosystem. (Hint: It’s not called Turtle Bay or Dolphin Bay.) Discuss how sharks, as a keystone species, impact other parts of the marine food web.
  • Sharks have a diabolical reputation. Watch our video “Demon Fish,” in which reporter Juliet Eilperin explains how sharks developed their fearsome reputation. (To skip to modern and contemporary attitudes toward sharks, start the video about 10 minutes in.) Why do students think sharks have such a fearsome reputation?
    • Sharks can look terrifying! With big, sharp teeth, these top-tier predators can undoubtedly be scary. At about 12:50, Eilperin talks about the ability of sharks to “strike out of the darkness, without warning.”
    • Shark “attacks” can result in major injury, including loss of limbs.
    • The presence or rumored presence of sharks can lead to beach closures to ensure public safety. This means loss of revenue for local businesses.
    • Media coverage. Watch Eilperin talk about the language used in describing shark incidents, starting about 11 minutes in—“shark attacks” versus “shark accidents.” How do students think these descriptions create different perceptions of the same incident?
    • Jaws! This 1975 blockbuster has become a symbol of the way sharks are too-often portrayed in the media. The impact of this movie cannot be overstated: Eilperin talks about how Jaws “transformed the mindset of a generation” at about 12:14. It is far from the only movie, book, or TV show about killer sharks, but it’s still the most familiar. (And the best!) Can students name some others?

3 responses to “Shark Attack!

  1. Pingback: Unique Facts About the Human Eye | ez·

  2. Pingback: Meet Prince William, Wildlife Advocate | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  3. Pingback: Another Deadly Shark Attack in Hawaii | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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