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Friday, December 19, 2008

Should you be afraid of sharks?

Should you be afraid of sharks?
By MICHAEL FOX - Friday, 19 December 2008

Few creatures capture the imagination or instil such a sense of fear as the shark, but scientists believe that fear is unreasonable.

NIWA shark expert Malcolm Francis tries to put the threat of an attack into context:

"Humans are a top predator ourselves and we don't like the idea that there is another predator out there that is bigger and stronger than we are and might eat us.

"But, having said, that there's a lot more people killed every year by tigers, lions, hippos round the world than there are by sharks and yet we seem to have this real fear of sharks and what they might do to us."

It appears a lot of the fear and misinformation about sharks comes from a startling lack of scientific information.

What science has told us is that shark numbers are drastically low. Nineteen of the world's shark species are listed as vulnerable, 17 endangered, and four critically endangered, according to the 2000 World Conservation Union Red List. Four New Zealand sharks - including the basking, spiny dogfish, whale and great white - were listed as vulnerable.

Humans kill more than 100 million sharks worldwide each year, in recreational and commercial fishing. Though Great Whites have been protected in New Zealand since 2007, many are still caught in nets and on long lines by commercial fisherman.

One thing is certain: sharks across the globe are in danger of being wiped out. There are already vast areas of the ocean where sharks have been fished out, Francis says.

Francis believes people have a moral imperative to protect sharks. But only further research and policy change will save them.

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