Yesterday, a large thresher shark was beached in Cirkewwa; this marks the second report of a shark sighting in around 15 months. But should we panic? The short answer is: no.
The first thing to remember is that thresher sharks are not dangerous to humans. As far as threats go, humans are far more dangerous to sharks than the other way round.
Despite its intimidating size, attacks by thresher sharks are almost completely unheard of (there has been one reported case where the shark attempted to stun a person with its large tail) yet the species is officially listed as a vulnerable one.
“Global shark populations are at an all-time low, and this is mainly a result of irresponsible bycatch.”
Unlike last year’s blue shark sighting, which survived thanks to the hard work of Sharklab Malta and National Aquarium, yesterday’s large, three-meter thresher shark died despite the best efforts from the Fisheries Department, the Civil Protection Department, the Armed Forces of Malta and the Police.
It isn’t known for certain how sharks find themselves this close to our shores, but they’re not there to hunt people. Most of the time they end up in shallow waters due to strong currents or injury. Once in shallow waters, they often become disorientated and as a result get thrown onto rocks by waves.
“It isn’t known for certain how sharks find themselves this close to our shores, but they’re not there to hunt people.”
Global shark populations are at an all-time low, and this is mainly a result of irresponsible bycatch. But people’s perception of the word ‘shark’ also has a part to play in all this. Too often we associate the phrase with viscous, human-eating monsters, but in reality most species have relatively small jaws and only eat small fish. Statistically speaking you’re more likely to die trying to wriggle your twistees out of a vending machine.
And before we freak out again by another reported sighting, think of how many times you’ve safely come and gone to the beach, think of how many generations have swam in our seas freely and remember that we’ve done all this while approximately 30 species of sharks have swam in Maltese waters.
In the words of Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws, “We provoke a shark every time we enter the water where sharks happen to be, for we forget: The Ocean is not our territory – it’s theirs.”