Baby shark = stuck in our head.
Actual sharks = stuck waiting for us to make better choices about the planet.
That’s where Dr. Rachel Graham comes in. As a shark scientist and conservationist, Dr. Graham is on the frontlines of ocean conservation and ecology. As we head into the summer, she’s here to tell us what we need to know about these key aquatic predators and why we need to protect them. (Like, besides the fact that they’re extremely cool.)
Big picture, why do we need sharks?
Everybody views sharks as being kind of these absolute top predators, but they occupy different levels in the food chain, depending on what stage of life they are in, and what species they are... What sharks do is, they basically control populations of a range of other species—usually prey species—around them. They're a stabilizing influence throughout the ecosystem.
What do you love about sharks?
Anytime I'm in the water with a shark, I marvel. That’s the word. I marvel at the perfection of evolution come to life. We're talking hundreds of millions of years that have gotten sharks to the perfect shape, form, elegance, speed, and power. They are perfection in real form.
Are sharks in trouble?
37% of shark species are currently threatened with extinction. It's one of the most highly threatened sets of vertebrates on the planet. Plus, sharks are the iconic animals that inspire people to actually care for the oceans, and care about conservation. And their waste is helpful for the ecosystem, too, but I don’t know if you want me to talk about shark poop.
Uh, please do!
It's great for your hair. But the smell is ungodly.
As non-shark scientists, how can we help these animals and therefore help the ocean?
The best thing you can do is think about eating more plants. There’s just not enough seafood to go around the planet. We have to diminish the amount of fishing efforts across the globe. I'm not saying, “Don't eat fish anymore,” but I am saying, reduce your consumption and eat low on the food chain. Obviously, don't buy shark-derived products, because every time you go out there and buy a shark tooth necklace, you're just promoting the trade. We want to limit that. Also, if you donate like $10 a month to an organization that’s helping sharks—like, two cups of coffee or one fancy latte a month, really—you can provide meaningful support to a lot of the small organizations that are on the ground globally making a difference.
Shark Week is coming up. What’s your view on it, as a scientist?
We’ve seen a huge evolution in Shark Week, which is good and very necessary. However, I think it still has a very long way to go. When it started, it was all about that sensationalism and gore. Unfortunately, that perpetrated a lot of bad stereotypes about sharks! The worst thing is, it created a sense of fear and horror in the audience. And sharks are not our enemy; we need them… But people like to create monsters; people like to incite fear. When there’s a picture of a shark on TV with scary music and words like “man-eating killer” and “blood thirsty”—that’s wrong. Also, women are not accessories to nature or science, but I don’t see very many on Shark Week! Do you? The lack of diversity is a problem all around.
If we see a shark this summer, should we panic?
No. Just leave it alone. In the nicest way, truly, sharks don’t really care about us! They’re just going on with their lives.