“An image that I had always dreamed of…a white shark in mid-flight coming straight toward me in full battle cry,” is how Chris Fallows described this scene in South Africa’s coastal waters. His photo is part of the most popular gallery published in the seven-year history of National Geographic News. Now these breaching sharks are back in the news (see the video in the extended entry below).
Photo courtesy Apex Predators,“Home of the breaching great whites”
National Geographic News knows this time of year as the “summer slump.” Schools are out and many people are on vacation, so there is a dip in the number of visitors to our site. We look harder for stories we know draw crowds.
So it’s this time of year that we and others in the media look to sharks.
Sharks are popular any time of the year. But when it’s beach season and millions of people are enjoying the ocean, sharks are perhaps more front of mind, especially when a bather gets nipped.
The danger is more imagined than real.
Our Sharks Facts story of 2005 revealed that the United States averages just 16 shark attacks each year and slightly less than one shark-attack fatality every two years. Meanwhile, in the coastal U.S. states alone, lightning strikes and kills more than 41 people each year.
On the flip side, as many as 100,000,000 sharks die each year because of fishing, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File. This devastates ocean ecosystems and coastal economies that depend on them.
The ugliest part of this is that an enormous number of sharks are killed for no purpose. Last year National Geographic News reported that at least 7.8 million sharks are killed off southern Africa each year by hooks intended for other animals–wanton destruction of an ancient predator that can have no good outcome for us.
National Geographic Channel tonight airs Sharkville, a new documentary about the great white sharks of southern Africa. Here, courtesy of NGC, is a clip from the film. What we’re seeing is the first documentation of great whites hunting at night.
The science behind the remarkable hunting behavior documented in this footage is reported today in our story Great White Shark Filmed Breaching at Night — A First. Our gallery Photographing Africa’s Flying Sharks and the story will tell you more about the technique these sharks evolved to snatch seals from the air.
There’s much more for us to marvel about sharks than their power and ferocity. Understanding their behavior, as the scientist featured in Sharkville is trying to do, will help teach us how to coexist more peacefully with them. We have to learn to do this because sharks help our planet stay healthy.
Related shark stories in the news today:
- Shark! The Great White (Washington Post Q&A with Ryan Johnson, the scientist featured in the National Geographic documentary Sharkville.)
- A Shark Tale: Are These Mighty Ocean Predators in Trouble? (Scientific American)