Fresh Perspective Swim With Sharks

Maintaining Ocean and Marine Life Health While Travelling: A Shark Week Reflection

With the conclusion of this year’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, today I’ve decided to share with you an interesting post talking more about sharks. In order to do so I’ve recruited the help of my favourite shark expert; my boyfriend Logan. Logan is studying Marine and Freshwater Biology and is one of the most passionate shark lovers I’ve ever met. Sometimes I think he’s a walking, talking shark encyclopedia! Not only is he incredibly knowledgeable about these creatures, but he has a passion for researching and learning about them as well as maintaining their safety in our oceans. I’ve asked him to help me out today to educate my readers on sharks, the oceans, and how we can all be more responsible travelers and peacefully coexist with sharks.

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We’re going to be combining our knowledge and passions of sharks, the ocean, and the environment to educate you guys on how to be shark and ocean friendly travelers. Hopefully this post will disprove any misconceptions you have about sharks now and show you they are creatures to be loved, not feared. We will also provide you with tips and ideas of what you can do individually to protect their habitats and strive for worldwide ocean sustainability.

Why are we so scared of sharks?

One of the biggest problems facing sharks today is the fear that they unintentionally instill in humans. But why? Why do we see sharks as terrifying or automatically associate them with gruesome images or terrifying tales? Why do humans not have the same fear of the giant squid or orcas; some of the few species who can kill great white sharks, the apex predator of our oceans today. Could it be because SeaWorld and other similar institutions have seemingly “tamed” and “domesticated” these beasts and brought out their “playful” side? Maybe Steven Spielberg can be to blame for bringing everyone’s basic fear of sharks to the big screen with Jaws. Whether it stems from the exaggerated media surrounding sharks in the news, or big screen classics like Jaws, we all seem to possess this same innate fear of sharks. We must do what we can to turn this misguided fear into respect for these magnificent creatures that have been given such a bad reputation by humans, and acknowledge exactly what they are capable of and how we as a species have done them an incredible injustice.

The way the media portrays sharks is unfair and untrue. Of course, there have been instances where a shark bite was fatal or an encounter with a surfer or swimmer resulted in a grotesque scene ending in the emergency room. But what about all the other “shark encounters” that have never been documented because the animals have shown restraint and not actually harmed anybody? Every day millions of people invade sharks’ homes in the ocean, but millions of people are not attacked. In fact, the number of shark attacks that actually occur is incredibly low; you have a better chance of being killed by a falling vending machine than a shark.

Sharks must be put into a different light and lose this villain status humans have given them. Hopefully, between the footage and knowledge of experts on Shark Week, and our own input through this article, we will be able to change the opinions of a few of you out there who may still be fearing these incredible animals.

Are sharks really the bad guy, or is it humans?

You may have heard that shark attacks have “increased” in recent years. While this may be true, there are a variety of factors to consider when thinking about WHY shark attacks have increased. It isn’t simply because sharks have become more angry and aggressive towards humans; they never really were to begin with. In fact, the majority of the cause for the rise in shark attacks is human impact. Marine biologists say there is little research into the cause of shark attacks, but point to several possibilities, all linked to human activity.

The first thing to consider is the growth in mobility and increased travel by humans. With cheap travel and airfare packages giving people more opportunities to be in the ocean, there are a lot more humans in the water than there used to be. A growth in shark attack numbers doesn’t necessarily mean there is an increase in the rate of shark attacks, rather it’s reflective of the increasing amount of time spent in the sea by humans, which increases the odds of interactions between people and sharks.

Another thing to consider is the impact overfishing has on shark behaviour. Our consumer based, high demanding society is causing the fishing industry to insanely deplete our oceans’ supplies, leaving sharks without food in their natural hunting areas which is forcing them to search elsewhere for food, including closer to heavily human populated shores. Forcing sharks to look elsewhere for food is drastically impacting the food web within our oceans. From phytoplankton all the way up to great whites and blue whales, these complex food webs are what keep our oceans in balance and every organism plays an important role. Any alteration to the web (specifically declining populations or eradication of species) disrupts every other organisms behaviour and lifestyle. If we continue to compromise the well being of marine life, the food web will collapse and our oceans will steadily die. If we continue with this overfishing trend, we will rid our oceans of crucial species of fish and marine life, which will not only harm the sharks, but harm every living being on this planet.

And finally, the elephant in the room; global warming. Human driven climate change is warming our planet at exponential rates and affecting ocean temperatures and currents;  both are factors that may be pushing sharks closer to shore and ultimately. . . to humans!  Sharks do not simply hangout near the shores of busy beaches because they’re planning on attacking an innocent human; they are forced into these areas by the decisions we, as a society, make every single day.

Let’s talk about a few of these daily decisions and how minor changes to your everyday life can have a huge impact on saving our oceans.

What can you do in your everyday life to save our oceans?

Stop eating fish.
You came to a vegan blog, of course this was going to be the first point, duh. By continuing to eat fish and other seafood you are supporting a harmful and cruel industry that not only murders innocent beings, but are contributing to the extinction of several species of marine life, and depleting our oceans of necessary organisms that even humans need to survive. If the oceans die, we die. And if overfishing continues at the rate it’s going, our oceans will be gone in a very short while and we won’t be far behind them. Saving the oceans is the biggest step in saving the entire human population.

Minimize your carbon footprint.
You’ve heard it all before; turn off the lights, use less energy, walk to work instead of drive, take short showers, etc, etc. While these suggestions may seem so miniscule when talking about the entire world’s oceans, little things like this do add up, and if every single person on earth made efforts to reduce their own carbon footprint, the effects of global warming would be slowed tremendously.

Use fewer plastic products.
Plastic that ends up in the ocean contribute to habitat destruction and entangle, trap, and kill tens of thousands of marine animals each year. Remember; the oceans are home to millions of different species of marine life; they are not our dumping grounds! Respect the oceans and keep them clean by using a reusable water bottle instead of purchasing plastic ones and make sure to recycle whenever possible.

Don’t purchase items that exploit marine life.
Don’t get sucked into cruel tourist traps like shark fin soup, coral jewelry, and tortoise shell products. These products are made by exploiting, torturing, and sometimes killing innocent marine life. Do not purchase these products, instead make sure you’re purchasing environmentally friendly and ocean friendly souvenirs.

Travel the ocean responsibly.
Whether you’re boating, kayaking, surfing, swimming, or participating in other recreational water activities, make sure you are not contributing to ocean waste or invading animals habitats or personal space in an unnatural or harmful way. Never throw anything overboard and be sure not to step on fragile coral reefs. Keep reading below for more ways to be an ocean friendly traveler.

What can you, as a traveler or every day beach goer, do to be the most shark aware and ocean conscious person in the water?

Be conscious of location!
If you’re in the United States, the coast of California, Carolina or Florida are areas to be aware of.  If you’re a bit more of a tropical adventurer then Hawaii, South Africa and Australia are also places to watch out for. These places are shark hotspots, use this knowledge to prepare beforehand and plan your trip accordingly. Learn which beaches to avoid and which ones are deemed the safest. Talk to locals and do your research, and always, always pay attention to any signage along the beaches.

Understand your position and role in the ocean.
This is not your home; it belongs to sharks, orcas, dolphins, and millions of other species of marine life. When you are on land you can control what you do and more often than not, control the outcome as well. When you leave land, you are no longer in your domain. We are not the apex predators of our planet. Like the lions dominating the plains of Africa, the sharks control the water and we must recognize and respect that, or that’s how you get yourself into trouble. Always be aware of where you are in the ocean and just keep in mind you’re not swimming there alone.

Also keep in mind, sharks have schedules, very specific ones. When they are following a current or path to their next location whether it be mating grounds, feeding grounds, pupping grounds, or a social area their instincts take over and minds are set on that task. What occasionally happens is that a shark, when heading to feed, may encounter a human. Now this shark’s mind is set on hunting. And even if it is not quite near the pod of whales or island populated by seals, its only objective is to eat. This doesn’t mean it is hunting us. It simply means a human has fallen into the path of a shark on its way to feed and that sharks mind is on only one thing; eating. I’m sure some of you can relate; when you’re hungry all you want to do is eat!

So, in its dead set focus when a human crosses paths with an angry shark, the shark may bite the human thinking its food. After this bite, albeit a potentially lethal one, the shark will realize that we aren’t what it wants to eat and will continue onward until it finds its food that the instinct have been directing it to. They cannot manually turn off the instinct to eat when they are in that mode. The animal only realizes the mistake after it’s too late. Remember the feeding schedules of sharks are planned out long before our vacations or trips to the beach, and if we happen to cross paths with one of these rulers of the sea, it’s up to it to decide the outcome.

Once again, this is not your ocean. I think as our society continues to grow, our ignorance and entitlement grow as well. Many believe that since we were put on this planet that we are the rulers of it. However, what right have we earned to impact and hurt the habitats, lifestyles and population size of other species? When you enter the water, be respectful of the millions of years of evolution that has occurred to refine sharks into the streamline powerhouses that they are today. Do not provoke them, or be the idiot who wants the new viral YouTube video, because taunting even a seemingly small shark can go wrong…fast!

Not only does being a smart traveler make you safer, it makes your time more enjoyable because you know you are educated and won’t have to stress out as much about whether or not you’re about to come face to face with a shark. Trust your guides if you’re on a snorkeling or scuba trip, and listen closely when cage diving. The people running excursions have years of experience and know what they are talking about as they deal with these animals every day. Do what they say and you’ll have an amazing experience.

Now, enough about you… let’s talk sharks!

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What can you do to keep sharks safe while travelling?

Look for ethical shark excursions or eco-tourism companies who respect the animals and do not harm them during their trips. Eco-tourism should be all about education and respect. Make sure you’ve done your research before deciding on an excursion company. If the company is not providing you with information or respecting the animals, then what’s the point?

Look for natural means of viewing these beautiful animals. Avoid any companies who ‘chum’ the water or use feeding frenzies to lure them in. This method of attracting sharks is incredibly dangerous to both you and the sharks. Find a company that lets them come to you, naturally, and on their own will. Not only will it feel more personal for you, it will keep the sharks in a far more natural and relaxed state.

Don’t participate in shark provoking activates such as shark fishing, spear fishing, or deep-sea fishing. Sure, reeling in a mako might be an awesome feat to show all of your friends, but please don’t.  Again, we don’t own them, or rule them, or have any right at all to impact their way of life in any way. So please respect that because many times shark will swallow the hook too deep for someone to pry the hook out and instead of retrieving it, the line will be cut and the hook will remain in the fish forever. Most importantly, if you go fishing and land a shark, THROW IT BACK. Do not kill it.

Love them! They are magnificent animals. They deserve our respect and admiration. By no means should we avoid them or have an unreasonable fear of them. Yes, they are dangerous and should only be interacted with by informed swimmers or researchers. Give them their space. Give them the respect they deserve and they will show you the same. Much like other animals the old saying “they’re more scared of you than you are of them” does ring true…to an extent. They are curious by nature, but are cautious. They will not willingly put themselves in harm’s way simply for the sake of self-preservation, but do not assume that means they are cowardly. They will investigate, and occasionally do what is called a ‘test bite’ which may result in a surfer or snorkeler receiving a nasty cut or in extreme cases, a lost limb. They do not bite us intentionally. They do not know what we are. Are we food? A threat? They lack our ability to touch and feel. What we would do with our hands they can only do with their mouths and teeth. Unfortunately, they don’t understand their own power so a seemingly innocent test bite in their eyes appears as a deliberate bite from our perspective.

We can’t blame them. As stated above, we put our bodies and lives in the hands of the ocean, or in the mouth of a shark, rather, every time we enter the water. We are not the only inquisitive beings on Earth. Sharks may be accustomed to surfers or swimmers in some areas of the world but as young sharks grow up they have no experience with us, and that is what we have to understand before we can fully accept them. We can’t control them. And for no reason should we. They are wild and we must realize that they have lives to live as well, however with declining shark populations and ocean health, their fight for survival is sadly in our hands a lot more than it should.

We continue to kill over a 100 million sharks per year, and even worse, keep polluting our oceans to such extents that species all over are fighting to stay on this planet. We need to put an end to this. We are not the almighty beings we think we are, nor are we doing what we were put here to do. We must live smarter, more efficiently, and put more thought into the species, other than the human one, being affected on a daily basis by our actions. An easy way to ease yourself into loving or understanding sharks is through the most amazing week of the year hosted by Discovery: SHARK WEEK! They give you such an in depth look at how beautiful and majestic these animals are and show so much more to them than their teeth.

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