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SEA LIFE debunks shark myths for Shark Awareness Day

In honour of Shark Awareness Day, SEA LIFE is busting some major Shark myths with SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium’s Shark Keeper.

For years, sharks have been misunderstood and vilified. Shark Awareness Day aims to dispel the fear, stigma, and misinformation surrounding sharks and raise awareness of their plight, inspiring people around the world to act in their defence.

It has been estimated that there are around 10 deaths globally per year attributed to sharks, while humans are responsible for killing about 100 million sharks every year.

"Sharks are amazing animals and without them, many ecosystems would not be healthy or thrive. Sadly, many types of shark are currently endangered, including Grey Nurse Sharks, a species that guests can see at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium. While they look scary, they are referred to as the ‘Labradors of the sea’ as they’re very calm and docile creatures. In the 1950s and 1960s, they were hunted and killed in the masses due to their threatening looks – which had a terrible impact on the populations in the waters of New South Wales. Major threats to their existence today include incidental catch from commercial and recreational fishing and entanglement in shark nets. However, it is promising to see that with protection strategies and fisheries management, numbers have started to rebound, and we hope this continue to improve.”

Emily Best Senior Aquarist at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium

This Shark Awareness Day SEA LIFE is separating facts and myths about sharks:

MYTH 1 – Sharks are always hungry
FACT – Some sharks go through different feeding cycles and spend a lot of time in a dormant feeding cycle, where they don’t eat for weeks at a time. Season changes, age, and sex can all affect a shark’s appetite and feeding cycle, but in short – no, they are not always hungry!

MYTH 2 – Sharks want to eat humans
FACT - Only about a dozen of the more than 400 species of sharks have ever been involved in biting humans. Sharks evolved millions of years before humans existed, therefore humans are not part of their normal diets, especially since we don’t occur naturally in their ocean. Most species of sharks feed primarily on smaller fish and a range of invertebrates, while some of the larger shark species eat fish, seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals.

MYTH 3 – Sharks can smell human blood
FACT – In part, this is true. Sharks possess very refined sensory receptors, called chemoreceptors, and can sense small amounts of blood (or any bodily fluid for that matter) in the water, which enables them to hunt for food. A huge portion of a shark’s brain is devoted to its sense of smell and is its biggest asset when it comes to hunting. The smell of blood may be an indicator that there is injured prey nearby, and a cue to investigate. However, they much prefer fish, squid, and marine mammals to humans.

MYTH 4 – Sharks have no personality
FACT – Studies show that sharks have distinct personalities (“sharkialities”) and behaviours and react to scenarios in different ways. Not only do they vary from species to species, but within a group of sharks, each has its specific style. At SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, we see that species, and individuals within that species, have their likes and dislikes. Some are dominant, others more laid back or some can be timid. They even have different ways of feeding; sometimes we can identify our sharks just by the way they approach their food. Some of our sharks’ exhibit interest in divers, others don’t, and they each respond uniquely to elements of their environment such as light, movement, and sound. As with humans, every shark is different and will respond to situations in its own way.

MYTH 5 – Sharks have no predators
FACT - While sharks are apex predators and sit at the top of the food chain, they still have predators, but it is actually humans who pose the largest threat to sharks. Human activity like overfishing and habitat destruction are the primary causes for the decline of shark populations worldwide.

Some surprising things that are more dangerous than a shark:
Vending Machines – are responsible for an estimated 13 human deaths per year.
Coconuts – falling coconuts cause 150 human deaths every year on average.
Selfies – it’s been said that more people die each year taking a selfie (in a risky location) than are killed by sharks… and this number is rising year on year.
Falling out of bed – about 450 people annually die from falling out of bed.

SEA LIFE champion the need for seas which are properly protected, free from plastic pollution, and full of diverse life. Working with partner charities the SEA LIFE Trust and the Shark Trust, we want to put an end to the over-exploitation of sharks, to protect these incredible animals and help maintain the balance in the ocean ecosystems on which we depend.

For more information on sharks and SEA LIFE click here or for more information on the SEA LIFE Trust visit: www.sealifetrust.org.

To discover more about SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, visit: www.visitsealife.com/sydney.