Aaah, summer: the heat warms your frigid winter toes, the sun finally reaches your glowing white legs, your woollies and thermals bid a hasty retreat to the back of the wardrobe, and the air on those blissful, warm summer nights smell like the ocean.
You can’t fight it any longer. The ocean calls to you.
Aaah, the sea: it’s good as you remember it. And you’re finally in. How good is this?…….Woah…errrr, did you see that? I swear I just saw a shadow over there. Nah, must be just imagining….ooohhh, was that a fin….? Ha ha ha, I must be paranoid! Probably just a wave.
Maybe it’s just us, but we’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve had that conversation with mates/family/boyfriends/girlfriends/ourselves. The fear of the shark is inherent in almost every beach visit.
Everyone has a great shark story. And that dum dum dum dum…..dum dum dum dum music – Stephen Spielberg and Jaws have a lot to answer for.
Someone always knows someone who’s been ‘this close’ to the mouth of a Great White.
Every summer the media love to pander to the idea that we are shark bait waiting to be taken. We have wiped out every large ‘monster’ capable of killing us on the planet with only Great Whites and Salt Water Crocodiles remaining. It’s a headline when some poor chap is mauled to death and not such a great story when another dies in their sleep. As they say in media land, ‘if it bleeds, it leads.’
Great Whites are big animals, reaching lengths of up to six metres and weighing up to 3,000 kg. When we look all we see are big mouths with lots of teeth.
But take a moment to look from another angle – they have a gentle inquisitiveness, fantastic cruise control and are very impressive sea creatures. Great Whites are fast and strong and much more adept in the water than any human will ever be.
They are also one of the oldest creatures on our planet, living fossils in fact. Sharks have been around on this planet for far longer than us (200,000 years), up to 450 million years and survived five mass extinctions – they must be doing something right. It turns out that Great White’s are a massively understudied and misunderstood species.
We know very little about their breeding cycle. Scientists believe that females may produce between five and ten young (pups) which are 1.2 to 1.5 metres long at birth and can weigh up to 32 kg. It is believed that these pups are fully developed and totally self-sufficient at birth. But do we do not know how these creatures breed.
Likewise, we know very little about their distribution or movements. In Australia, Great Whites have been recorded from Moreton Bay in Queensland, around the south coast of Australia, and over to West Cape in Western Australia. In other parts of the world they have been observed in temperate and sub-tropical waters. To this end, various projects are currently underway to monitor their movements hopefully find out more about these captivating creatures.
We know a little bit about what they like to eat. Juveniles appear to feed primarily on squid, fish, stingrays and other sharks while the bigger ones change their diet to include marine mammals (seals, sea lions, dolphins, dead whales). Oh, and the odd human!
There is no point pretending that this doesn’t happen. Very rarely. The reality is that although people and sharks occasionally find themselves in the same place at the same time, these incidences are very rare. The truth is, despite the millions of hours that millions of people spend in the ocean, you’re 5 times more likely to get struck by lightening than find yourself in the jaws of a Great White. Despite its spectacular nature hardly anyone has a lightening story.
But we don’t eat Great Whites, do we? Not generally although we do eat lots of other sharks (their fins mainly for soup) and have reduced the number of large sharks by 90%. It’s estimated that up to 100 million sharks are killed every year – this distorts the balance of the food chain where they live.
The problem is that we eat a lot of the same foods as Great Whites. We have much bigger collective bellies and increasingly easier means of catching these foods.
Overfishing is the single biggest threat to our Great Whites. Our appetite for fish is not just threatening the fish we eat but also those species that also eat fish. Great Whites are now classified as endangered. It’s all connected. Overfishing isn’t the only threat to our Great White Sharks. The other big threats to sharks include entanglement in nets and fishing gear, toxic contamination, water pollution and habitat degradation.
So what can you do? We’ve found out a few things that you can do to help.
* The easiest thing you can do to help save our sharks in is to keep our environment clean! Purchase biodegradable and chemical-free products that do not harm our environment, and support recycling efforts to keep harmful materials like plastic from entering the water supply.
* Never discard used fishing line, nets and hooks in the water. This entangles and kills birds, fish, turtles, dolphins, small sharks and whales, seals and otters.
* Help fight climate change! Climate change and it’s sister problem – ocean acidification – are shaping up to be huge issues for our oceans, and for all marine animals including sharks. Visit our climate change page to find out what you can do.
* Volunteer with local community groups to clean storm drains, Adopt A Beach, or monitor the water quality of local watersheds. Organize your classroom, school club, or organization to clean litter from rivers, creeks, estuaries, and beaches.
* Keep your car well maintained to prevent leaks onto roadways and driveways, which cause water pollution.
* Drop the fear. While we definitely advise using caution when swimming in our oceans at dawn and dusk (main feeding time for Great Whites) near seal colonies. Spread the truth about sharks. They need our help. The rare fatal attack overrides the facts.
Great Whites are a magnificent species playing a vital role in our oceans. We must work to protect these incredible species. Without them, our lives and life in the ocean will be a much poorer place.