shark science

Sharks are all around us. Scientists explain why we don't need to fear.

"Humans definitely are not on any shark's menu."

Sami Sarkis

It’s a fear-inducing sight: the curved fin or dark shadow gliding through the water. But scientists who track sharks and observe their behavior say it doesn’t have to be.

While we swim, surf, and play in the ocean, sharks are often closer than we think.

Scientists say that's no reason to panic.

Vicki Smith

Hans Palmboom

Over the past century, shark populations dropped by almost 90 percent. They are threatened by overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction.

Chris Lowe is a marine biologist and director of the Shark Lab.

"About 50 years ago, we essentially sterilized our coastal oceans and got rid of everything that could harm us," Lowe tells Inverse.

"We caught most things and polluted the water, which made it easy for recreation and relatively safe.

People didn't have to worry about how to deal with predators. And then we recognized that that was bad for ecosystems."

- Chris Lowe, marine biologist and director of the Shark Lab.

Barcroft Media

As a top predator, sharks help maintain species below them on the food chain, as well as seagrass and coral reef environments.

Wiping them out causes damaging ripple effects across the entire marine ecosystem.

Jeff Rotman

Luckily, thanks to conservation efforts and more stringent marine regulations, shark populations are slowly recovering.

Humans and sharks are sharing the ocean again.

With warmer waters and rebounding populations, sharks are popping up on coastlines like Cape Cod and Southern California in rising numbers.Chris Lowes, Shark Lab

"People are seeing sharks more at the beach and a lot of people flip out, say, 'Oh my god, I saw a shark, it's going to attack me!' We know that's not true."

- Chris Lowe, marine biologist and director of the Shark Lab.

Humans can happily live with sharks if they do two crucial things.

Merten Snijders

1. Cut through irrational fear.

Shark attacks can happen but more people are injured and killed on land while driving to and from the beach than by sharks in the water.

"We have about 100+ years of data, which suggests that humans definitely are not on any shark's menu."

- Chris Lowe, marine biologist and director of the Shark Lab.

Barcroft Media

Often, when they swim by someone they don't change their direction or speed. Very rarely do they move towards people.Chris Lowes, Shark Lab

2. Remember that we play in their home. We are guests in the ocean.

"If you are in the water, you quite often cannot see a shark unless it is really close to you.

But using drone technology, we can see them in and amongst people all the time, even though the people cannot see the sharks there."

- Chris Lowe, marine biologist and director of the Shark Lab.

To avoid the rare instance where a shark might attack, Lowe advises:

1. Swim in groups or with a partner

2. Avoid murky water

3. Leave sharks alone if they do appear.

In the past decade, Lowes says he's witnessed a groundswell of attitudinal shifts towards sharks

People are realizing they are not bloodthirsty creatures. They are majestic fish.

Drone footage captured by Lowe and his team.

"in 10 years, I feel like people are going to treat sharks like they do marine animals. They'll say, 'Oh, my God, I was out surfing and I saw a shark and it was the best day ever. It was so cool; the animal gloriously swimming by."

- Chris Lowe, marine biologist and director of the Shark Lab.

In recognition of the 45th anniversary of the release of Jaws, Inverse is sharing weird-but-true stories about sharks.

SCIEPRO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

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