Pity the great white shark. Yes, it can bite you in half without trying hard, and it’s so blindingly quick that if a great white takes it into its feeble but aggressive mind to attack, you’ll be in pieces before you know it. Just as well, really.
But the odds are astronomically low that such a thing will happen—and its got problems of its own. For every human killed by a shark, as we wrote in this cover story, about six million sharks are killed by humans in return. As a result of this wholesale slaughter, mostly in fishing operations, great white populations had plunged by more than 70% in the 1980’s, leading to the huge fish on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “redlist“of threatened species.In response, many countries put strict limits on fishing for great whites, and now two new studies in the journal PLOS ONE show that populations on both the East and West coasts of the U.S. have rebounded somewhat, to about 2,000 off the U.S. coasts, as we reported yesterday.
Even if you’re not a member of PETA, this is very good thing: Great whites are an apex species. Like lions and tigers and bears, they’re at the top of the food chain, where their inborn voraciousness keeps the populations of other species in check. Mess with that relationship and you can mess up an entire web of interactions that keeps the ocean ecosystem stable.
And as for you: Only about 100 people are attacked by sharks every year—last year, it was 27 in the United States—and only a fraction of those are killed. Given the millions upon millions of people who visit the world’s beaches every year—well, you do the math. But just for some perspective, vastly more people die from bee stings, lightning strikes and even falling out of bed than from a shark attack.
So yes, your chances of being eaten by a great white this summer have increased from essentially zero to essentially zero. But “hooray” is still the right way to think about it.
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