The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

FLAHERTY: Why are you afraid of sharks?

All it takes is one ocean documentary in ninth grade and an average my-favorite-animal-is-a-dog landlocked kid from South Dakota to become hooked on everyone’s worst fear: sharks.

About 29.6% of Americans feared sharks in 2022. You might expect a higher percentage but with mass shootings and a global pandemic, American’s fears are a bit preoccupied. Nonetheless, this fear has created devastating impacts to the top of the aquatic food chain.

But where did this fear start?

As swimming became a popular recreational activity in the turn of the century, an event shocked the shores of New Jersey in 1916. A series of shark attacks over the span of 12 days would leave four dead and one injured over the span of 12 days. People stormed the beaches with dynamite, allegedly leading to the capture of a great white with human remains in its stomach. The first recorded instance of a fatal shark attack would become one of the inspirations for Steven Spielberg’s cult classic and critically acclaimed 1975 film “Jaws.”

As the townsfolk on the Jersey Shore and the fictional beachside town of Amity spread fear and panic in the wake of shark attacks, audiences of Jaws began to feel the same pull of fear upon exiting the theaters after watching the 1975 summer blockbuster.

Alright, so deadly shark attacks have happened in both film but also real life. But what does that mean for your average Midwesterner going on vacation in the warm shark infested ocean?

Let’s put this into perspective.

In 2021, there was one fatality via shark attack in the United States. If we’re looking at the list of weird unlikely deaths, there were 11 US deaths caused by lightning strikes and 20 by cows. I’m putting my chances of being backed over by a cow in Wisconsin over a random shark attack any day.

There are over 400 species of sharks, but even the most aggressive species rarely kill. Sharks aren’t man-eaters. A typical adult great white shark’s diet consists of seals, porpoises and even sea turtles. Notice how humans aren’t included? In the timeline of evolution, sharks are millions ahead of us. We’re simply not on their radar. Although sharks can be opportunistic feeders, most shark attacks are, for good reason, a simple bite and nothing beyond this. Sharks mainly bite humans because of curiosity. If you’re flailing in the water and about the size of a large sea turtle, can you blame the giant great white for wanting to chomp down and see what’s up?

Okay, so you’re not going to pee your pants in fear at the aquarium now that you know sharks aren’t out to get you and the chances of being mauled to death by a great white are low. However, the impact of this widespread fear goes beyond a movie screen chill.

Jaws spawned shark fishing competitions along the coast. There are over 400 species of sharks, yet these shark hunts have contributed to the decline in population to 300 of these species. Continued public fear of sharks only cultivates a worsening environment for these sharks to live in.

While Steven Spielberg voices regret over his film’s impact on shark populations, there are some benefits that emerged from the talk about sharks.

Jaws contributed to a newfound interest in the research and discovery of shark species. Or in my case, a communications major who is intrigued by learning and teaching the public that a creature they fear is something to revere and protect instead.

Reconsider what taught you to fear a creature you maybe haven’t even seen in person before.

Fear the real killer with a higher percentage in yearly deaths instead, Wisconsinites: Cows.

This story was written by Nancy Flaherty. She can be reached at [email protected]

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Nancy Flaherty, General Manager of Marquette Television
Nancy Flaherty is a senior from Watertown, South Dakota majoring in public relations and minoring in corporate communications. Previously, she was the Executive Social Media Producer. She's excited to be the General Manager of the Marquette University Television Station for the 2023-2024 school year. Nancy is looking forward to helping new MUTV volunteers and hanging out with her friends in the newsroom. In her free time, she enjoys creating watercolor art, watching West Wing and trying new recipes to bring to work.

Comments (0)

All Marquette Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *