A Blue View: Shark Fact or Fiction

In an era of sensationalized headlines and misplaced fear, the facts surrounding sharks have become murkier than the water in a “Jaws” scene.

Published July 07, 2015

shark

Image via Flickr user Elias Levy

What better time to separate fact from fiction than during Shark Week? Put your shark knowledge to the test and see how many of these facts and myths you already knew.

Sharks have no bones.

FACT: Sharks are cartilaginous, which means their skeletons are composed of cartilage and connective tissue rather than bones. That’s why it’s so hard to find complete fossil remains of sharks.

Shark attacks are on the rise.

FICTION: When a shark attacks, you undoubtedly hear about it through excessive media coverage. But the fact is, you have a one in 11.5 million chance of being attacked by a shark in the United States.

Unprovoked attacks have gradually increased over the years, but so has the number of people in the water. A larger human population means more people visiting beaches and recreating in sharks’ natural habitat.

As George H. Burgess—director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History—explained in a recent CNN article, even economics play a role. “There were 29 unprovoked shark confrontations in 2009, a recession year when many Americans were too busy trying to keep their homes to spend time in the tides. In these somewhat better times, however, more Americans have gone to the shore. In 2013, there were 47 attacks, and 52 last year.”

The truth is that the rate of shark attacks has not increased—we’re just creating more opportunities for shark attacks than before.

Sharks don’t get cancer.

FICTION: This is a dangerous myth perpetuated by certain alternative health and nutrition stores that sell shark cartilage as a means to ward off cancerous diseases. Science and medical journals have debunked this with hundreds of published cases of benign and cancerous tumors in sharks.

Sharks can be trained.

FACT: Though many mistakenly believe that sharks are dumb creatures with small brains, they’re actually quite intelligent and can even be trained. In fact, we’ve trained our own blacktip reef sharks to recognize cues that signal it’s time for food. Our animal care staff uses a white buoy at the feeding station, which prompts them to target on this buoy once dropped from the surface during their feeding. This helps the staff monitor the sharks’ food intake and keeps their feeding time orderly.

Shark fins grow back if cut off.

FICTION: It’s very unlikely that a finned shark that’s returned to the ocean will survive. Despite the common misconception that they can regrow their fins, sharks do not possess any regenerative properties that would allow them to do so.

You’re more likely to get hit by an asteroid than die from a shark attack.

FACT: You’re also more likely to be killed by a Champagne cork, contract West Nile virus, give birth to quadruplets, be struck by lightning or die from a falling coconut than die from a shark attack.

Sharks can regenerate teeth.

FACT: Sharks frequently lose their teeth. Lucky for them, they have replacements arranged in progressive rows, ready to replace the lost ones. The new tooth can move into place in as little as 24 hours.

Only rogue sharks attack.

FICTION: There is no evidence that a lone shark can suddenly decide it likes the taste of humans and change its prey preference. Evolutionarily, it doesn’t make sense. Sharks have been around for millions of years and have evolved to survive in an environment without humans long before we showed up on this planet. We are only a recent addition to their habitat.

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