Kailey Krantz-Diaz | Staff Writer
Sharks have a bad reputation for being the “bullies of the deep,” which has led to people becoming afraid of them and not having sympathy for them when they die. But that may change as a mako shark was rescued by Florida beachgoers in the Pensacola Gulf Coast in a viral video on Sept. 14.
Unfortunately, a deceased mako shark was spotted near the area two days later, although it has not been confirmed as of yet if it was the same shark shown in the video.
While this story may or may not have a happy ending, it gives me hope that people are starting to have more compassion for these creatures and their preservation.
In an interview with Dr. Yannis Papastamatiou, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and one of the lead scientists of the Predator Ecology and Conservation Lab, I learned about sharks’ impact in South Florida and his thoughts on the story.
“I was pleased to see people on the beach trying to save the shark in what was a potentially risky maneuver,” he said. “It gives me hope that more members of society are accepting that we coexist with sharks.”
Sharks are a vital part of the underwater world. Marine scientists and researchers regard them as keystone species, as they regulate prey populations in coral reefs. And, if eliminated, they could negatively change the ecosystem.
There’s also the Jaws Effect, a phenomenon where people believe that sharks go out of their way to attack humans. This belief is due to the great white shark’s villainous portrayal in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 summer blockbuster “Jaws” and Peter Benchley’s novel that inspired the film.
“The Jaws Effect is still an issue,” said Dr. Papastamatiou.
He did note that it’s possible “we’re seeing a weakening of the Jaws Effect as more and more people become exposed to sharks and spend some time with them in the water.”
It highlights the correlation the media has to the human perception of sharks. For generations, people believed that all sharks are evil and prefer humans as their main course when that’s far from the truth.
In reality, “most sharks are not dangerous to humans, [as] people are not part of their natural diet,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
I used to be on that boat of staying away from sharks, but the more I learned about them, the more I liked them. I’ve always been fond of learning about marine life, and it’s cool to find that sharks do more for the ecosystem than we realize.
Dr. Papastamatiou encourages FIU students to be aware that “healthy [coral] reefs should have sharks on them,” showcasing the beneficial relationship between sharks and their habitats.
Not only should you pay attention to the sharks, but you should also pay attention to the ecosystem around them, as they determine whether or not a species of shark is healthily living there or is migrating somewhere else for better living conditions.
“If you are a Biology or Marine Biology student, make sure [to] read scientific literature on sharks and their importance on the ecosystem,” he said.
It’s time we start changing the shark’s role in society from “bullies of the deep” to “watchdogs of the reef,” as they deserve our help in protecting them and their ecosystems.
The opinions presented on this page do not represent the views of the PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.