DR. T.V. PADMA

Are sharks as dangerous as they are made out to be?

There are nearly 400 types of sharks known today. The largest — also one of the largest fish in the ocean — is the whale shark. It can grow to over 20 m in length! Some sharks are tiny, like the deepwater dogfish is one of the smallest — just about 20 cm long when full grown!

One of the fastest sharks is the shortfin mako clocking up to 32 km per hour! There are a lot of myths about shark attacks. First of all, of the over 375 species of sharks known to humans, only about 30 have ever been recorded to have attacked people. White sharks, tiger sharks and bull sharks are the only three species ever recorded to have made unprovoked attacks on humans.

Humans vs sharks

Some shark attacks are provoked by humans. When encountered, some humans prod, poke, try to feed or capture the animal. Sometimes, sharks get caught in fishing nets, and bite fisherman trying to untangle them.

Often, in an unprovoked attack, the shark merely mistakes a human being for something else that it normally eats. It takes a bite and swims off, realising its mistake. These types of attacks take place in shallow water, most often, when the shark is confused. What precautions can you take to guard against this? Stay in groups and relatively close to the shore. If you are going to swim in the ocean, try and avoid dawn and twilight. Avoid wearing flashy jewellery when swimming. Don’t splash like an animal in distress — that will attract the shark. Most important if you do encounter a shark, do not panic. Instead, leave the water quietly. And don’t provoke it.