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 Frequently Asked Questions

Below you will find a collection of frequently asked questions and the respective answers given by representatives of the Shark Foundation whose opinion they reflect.

  • The number of shark attacks appears to be increasing, at least according to many media reports. Is this true and how many such attacks are there?
  • Why is the number of shark attacks increasing?
  • How bad are these shark accidents as a rule?
  • Do sharks eat humans?
  • Which shark species are really dangerous?
  •   General
  • Sharks have the reputation of being "eating machines" because at times some strange objects, such as license plates, are found in their stomachs. Why do they swallow such objects?
  • Is there any effective deterrent against sharks, for example in case of ship accidents?
  • Why do so many people fear lions or tigers less than they do sharks?
  • How can I become a shark scientist?
  • Are there really warm-blooded sharks?
  • Why are sharks not fish?
  •   Photos
  • Shark Photos
  •   Protection
  • According to information from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and Traffic each year over 100 million sharks (more than 800,000 tons) are killed. Which species are particularly threatened?
  • What can I do?
  •   Shark Feedings
  • What does the Shark Foundation think about shark feedings?
  •   Shark Foundation
  • What does the Shark Foundation actually fight for?
  • What type of projects does the Shark Foundation support or carry out?

  • AccidentsTop
    The number of shark attacks appears to be increasing, at least according to many media reports. Is this true and how many such attacks are there?
    The frequency of shark accidents has been slowly increasing since the beginning of this century. Each year the ISAF (International Shark Attack File) registers 50 to 100 shark accidents worldwide in nonprofessional water activities. Generally out of these accidents ONLY 5 to 15 end fatally. This is extremely small, compared to the annual approx. 15 billion bathing, swimming and surfing events. The number of unrecorded cases is, however, higher, for third world countries only seldom inform us about shark accidents because they fear a loss of image. On the other hand, even the most harmless scratches are designated as shark attacks, even though these would only be valid as "shark encounters". So far 2001 has been a year with - statistically seen - a so-called "normal" accident rate.
    Why is the number of shark attacks increasing?
    The very slow increase in the number of accidents involves probabilities. The number of people spending their vacation at the seaside is increasing, which increases the probability that one of these people may encounter a shark and risk the danger of an accident. On the other hand, we also have a reverse trend: the number of water activities is increasing while the number of sharks which could even pose a danger to humans is rapidly dwindling - a fact which also affects the probability of an accident. One hundred shark accidents in 15 billion annual water activities is really not much.
    An additional aspect to be considered is the ever increasing international networking of the media. When a surfer in Australia or Florida is bitten by a shark, it hits the media. When the media reports frequently on such accidents, we have the subjective feeling that their number is increasing.
    How bad are these shark accidents as a rule?
    When we hear about a shark accident, our mind often sees pictures such as those out of "The White Shark". Many of the shark accidents which are items of topical interest are relatively harmless bite injuries. Really serious accidents are seldom. In the case of a young boy, whose head was bitten off by a shark, it turned out later after some precise research by the GSAF (Global Shark Attack File) that the boy was not killed by the shark but had already drowned before he was found by the shark. However, these results NEVER appeared in the media. The same goes for a series of accidents in Florida which hit the press in 2001. Fatal accidents were few, many of the accidents were collisions with blacktip sharks who have an average length of 1.50 meters and are thus too small to really be of danger to humans.
    Do sharks eat humans?
    Sharks usually do not eat humans, for humans are not part of their food spectrum. During the investigation of bite wounds practically no tissue loss could be determined. The sharks bite, but then let go because they do not like the taste of people. With large sharks such as white sharks, tiger sharks or bull sharks, such a test bite can quickly have fatal results through shock and the loss of blood. The fact that fatal accidents are so few shows how rare such accidents with large sharks and people really are.
    Which shark species are really dangerous?
    Eighty percent of all shark species do not even grow as big as a human being. Their size alone makes them harmless. The shark species most frequently involved in accidents are: white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas), blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) (only minor injuries), tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), sandtiger sharks (Carcharias taurus), hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna spp.). The accidents with white sharks are probably overrated, for large bull sharks have the same bite pattern as a medium-sized white shark, which indicates that many mistakes are most likely made when identifying the species.
    Sharks have the reputation of being "eating machines" because at times some strange objects, such as license plates, are found in their stomachs. Why do they swallow such objects?
    This reputation goes back to the tiger sharks who are the omnivore among the sharks and have the widest food spectrum. Metallic objects change the electrical field in their surroundings (galvanic currents). Since sharks use their ampullae of Lorenzini to home in on their prey, the tiger sharks confuse the metallic objects with prey. There may also be other entirely different reasons for this. Basically, finding a license plate in a shark's stomach is not typical for all sharks. Children also occasionally swallow strange objects, but that does not mean that mankind lives off needles or plastic playthings.
    Is there any effective deterrent against sharks, for example in case of ship accidents?
    The South Africans have developed an effective protective device called "Shark POD" (Protective Ocean Device) which is used by divers. It protects the user by means of a weak electrical field which floods the shark's highly sensitive ampulae of Lorenzini with stimuli so that the shark does not approach the diver. For cost reasons PODs are not feasible as a mass protection item (ship accidents). For crowds of people there is still no effective protection.
    Why do so many people fear lions or tigers less than they do sharks?
    My personal opinion:
    Lions and tigers are mammals, live on land, are warm and have fur. This makes them more appealing than sharks - people are more prone to forgiving a close relative for a mistake. Fear of snakes comes closer to that of sharks. In the eyes of humans, sharks are similar to fish, cold and thus "primitive", "stupid" and "merciless".
    Unfortunately, these prejudices are false, e.g. there are warm-blooded sharks. More important, however, sharks are not primitive. Instead they have adapted themselves optimally to their environment in over 400 million years. Nor are they stupid, for they demonstrate social behavior, they can learn, and when it comes to the relation between body weight and brain, their brain is comparable to that of mammals and birds!
    Man's origins are the savannahs. Ever since man existed he has been fleeing from lions and tigers. On land he has survived a long time and successfully, and even dares to flee from a lion or tiger for there was always a tree to climb up in the vicinity, or he could hide. In the ocean, however, there are no trees and man's only chance of hiding underwater is a breathing device which functions only for a limited period of time. Fleeing in the water is difficult and we are aware that our speed in the water is considerably slower than that of a shark, much slower when compared to a lion. Visibility underwater is usually worse than on land and on the water's surface we can barely recognize what is happening underneath us.
    All in all not a promising situation for anyone who encounters a shark and who does exactly what our basic instinct tries to make us avoid.
    When faced with an extremely fast, strong hunter, optimally adapted to his environment but whom we can barely see, it becomes quite clear to us, especially in our subconscious, that we find ourselves in a strange and not at all optimal environment which hampers the use of our biological escape strategies. Our instincts signalize a strange feeling in the pit of our stomach, our intellect reports fear and we connect both of these feelings, subconsciously and consciously, with sharks. In the end, fear stirs up hate, for people often hate what they fear.
    How can I become a shark scientist?
    This question is asked frequently. The reply is difficult for in effect there is basically no such thing as a shark researcher. There are scientists who occupy themselves with sharks. Take, for example, shark migrations: a physiologist may perform research on how much energy is used during the migration period. A behavioral scientist can explore if sharks migrate in groups, at particular times and for what purpose. An ecologist or evolution biologist may examine the genetic pattern of the populations at the start and completion of the migration in order to find out when and how intensely an exchange of genes takes place. A physicist can look at the characteristics of shark skin, and together with the physiologist, determine that the shark's placoid scales or dermal denticles allow energy-saving, efficient swimming. An oceanographer may perhaps check the currents and underwater landmarks used by sharks to orient themselves, and a neurophysiologist may check the electrical perception of sharks to determine if they orient themselves on the earth's magnetic field.
    Basically, many research areas deal with sharks. Completed biology studies and significant experience in scientific studies, and with sharks, are certainly good prerequisites to at some time perhaps be considered a shark scientist.
    Are there really warm-blooded sharks?
    Yes. Species belonging to the family of Lamniformes can maintain their body temperature above that of the ambient water temperature. This is possible through a fine capillary network (wonder network or Rete mirabilis) which functions as a heat exchanger. Warm blood coming from the body warms the cold blood coming from the gills before it arrives in the gills. In this way the warmth generated by the body does not get lost. White sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) have a very efficient heat exchanger. Their raised body temperature makes it possible to also hunt such warm-blooded mammals as seals in cold water. Such heat exchangers are not only found in several shark species. Tunafish also reach their best swimming performance thanks to their body temperature which is higher than the ambient water temperature.
    Why are sharks not fish?
    There are many animals which live in the water but do not belong to the bony fish such as salmon, trout or cod. Since all of these animals live in the water, they have adapted themselves to their environment in similar ways. For example, dolphins and whales are mammals, but very much resemble bony fish. Sharks also resemble bony fish, but their line of development separated them hundreds of millions of years ago (approx. 400 million) from that of the bony fish through, for example, the development of five to seven gill-slits per side. Their intestinal tract, the so-called valvular intestine, also differs considerably from that of bony fish. In addition, sharks have specialties such as the ampullae of Lorenzini (electrosensors) and dermal denticles.
    One important difference gave the entire class its name. The skeleton of sharks, rays and chimera is made of cartilage, that is why they are called cartilage fish, as opposed to bony fish.
    Shark Photos
    The Foundation receives frequent inquiries on shark photographs. Unfortunately we have only a small number of shark photos ourselves. Most photographs were put at our disposal by professional photographers, or we bought them. We are only allowed to use these photos in direct connection with our website, the work of the Foundation or our shark sponsorship program. If you are looking for shark photos, please make inquiries directly with our partner photo agencies
    According to information from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and Traffic each year over 100 million sharks (more than 800,000 tons) are killed. Which species are particularly threatened?
    Deep-sea sharks such as blue sharks, whitetip deep-sea sharks or silky sharks are being massively decimated by deep-sea fishing (mainly as bycatch).
    In Asia it is the whale sharks who are caught in an extremely brutal manner and killed for their meat and fins. They are extremely endangered in this region and are found on the CITES list of highly threatened species.

    In European and U.S. waters we have the spiny dogfish (used to make strips of smoked fish, fish & chips) which has been practically wiped out. U.S. populations are currently protected, following years of fighting against the fishing industry lobby.
    The Norwegians have practically eliminated the mackerel sharks in their waters and in the northwestern Atlantic.
    What can I do?
    > Click here for a list of things that you can do for the protection of sharks.
    Shark FeedingsTop
    What does the Shark Foundation think about shark feedings?
    Up until now no connection between feeding activities and shark accidents could be proven. The arguments of environmental groups thus stems from a feeling rather than facts. In my opinion there are two ways of looking at this matter:
    Meines Erachtens gibt es zwei Möglichkeiten, dieses Thema zu betrachten:
    Feeding. Sharks are wild animals and should be treated as such. Feedings using a pole or the hand are certainly dangerous if handled unprofessionally and could also be dangerous for spectators.
    Since sharks can only be fed selectively, this may cause friction among the sharks because of the food and finally lead to injuries of the spectators. In time the sharks' interest in people may be awakened and they will begin to connect people with food. This would not be the first such case. Conditioning of wild animals always has negative effects on people and the animal itself. One good example of this are the bites of Zurich's city foxes who are fed by people.
    There is one method of feeding which reconstructs a natural situation: the so-called chumsicle. A chumsicle is a frozen block of fish which slowly melts in the seawater. It thus resembles a large, dead fish drifting in the water, in other words a normal situation in the ocean. In this case the sharks can get their food freely and in accordance with their natural pecking order. Observers are usually about 10 to 20 meters away from the chumsicle and are thus not brought in connection with the food. Still, even here there is a certain risk that sharks may scramble for the drifting fish parts so that spectators may also be injured.
    In my personal opinion, encountering a shark underwater on a chance basis is much more attractive than the shark rodeos offered by commercially organized shark diving organizations. Unfortunately, such a random encounter cannot always be planned in advance and that makes it difficult to sell.
    Shark Protection and Public Relations
    The meat of an average-sized shark brings about CHF 30 to 40 on the market, its fins even more, depending on the species between CHF 300 and 500. This stands in no relation to its "tourism market value". On the Bahamas, for example, this is estimated to be about CHF 27,000 per shark, and not just on a one-time basis, but annually. Sharks are thus no longer slaughtered indiscriminately in hundreds of thousands, instead the government is trying to promote the sustainable management of their tourist attractions. Similar reflections should also help protect the strongly endangered whale shark populations in Taiwan and other Asian countries, where whale watching trips are on the rise.
    Divers with experience in shark encounters are good ambassadors for "saving sharks". So hopefully the governments will also one day feel impelled to sustainably manage and maintain their shark populations instead of leaving them to the commercial fishermen for scrupulous exploitation.

    Although from a biological point of view shark feedings cannot be justified, they represent a compromise between biology and the preservation of endangered shark populations. To prohibit such feedings in order to protect sharks may one day have just the opposite effect of having nothing more to protect. In other words, better a well-fed than a dead shark.
    Shark FoundationTop
    What does the Shark Foundation actually fight for?
    The Shark Foundation is committed to achieving a sustainable usage of existing shark populations and protecting endangered shark species. We are not basically opposed to shark fishing. That would be unrealistic, for shark meat belongs to the basic food palette of several regions. But in areas where populations are strongly overfished we believe that protective zones should be established and that laws limiting catch numbers must be enacted.
    What type of projects does the Shark Foundation support or carry out?
    The philosophy supporting all projects is:
    a) They must provide information which serves to protect sharks. For example, shark nurseries must be located, protected and any negative influences on the area investigated. Other projects investigate shark migration routes. For what good does it do to protect sharks in country A when they are killed on their migration routes in country B or C?. Basic ecological connections are important to consider here.
    b) They should directly serve shark protection. We support projects which allow the monitoring of catch regulations and, for example, a newly founded shark protection zone in Fiji.
    c) Information projects such as the exhibit "Sharks - the hunted hunters" are designed to make people aware of how sharks are threatened and to improve their image based on the distribution of sound scientific information.

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