According to National Geographic, the U.S. averages 16 shark attacks each year and slightly less than one shark-attack fatality every two years. To put that into context, National Geographic cites that along the coastal U.S. alone, lightning strikes and kills over 41 people each year. For Ocean Ramsey, a 27-year-old shark conservationist, those chances are slim enough.
Ramsey, who is also a model, a scuba instructor and a free diver, travels the world to swim with the ocean’s most feared critters and has so far, swam with 32 different shark species. While she does not advise everyone to follow in her fearless footsteps, Ramsey hopes to help make a new reputation for sharks — one that is different from what we see in the media, like the movie Jaws.
“Every story needs a villain, and after films like Jaws, it’s just too easy for most media to continue to manipulate the human psyche and ingrain a deeper more absurd terror,” Ramsey said. “Just showing these animals swimming around not biting or eating anything, as they are probably 99% of the time, isn't enough to convince people.”
Ramsey says that a lot is currently unknown about sharks like the Great White. For example, the mating and gestation periods of the Great White are unknown, as well as their life expectancy. She’s made it her mission to discredit myths about these highly-feared, but little known predators as they are under the threat of extinction. National Geographic seems to agree with Ms. Ramsey’s less orthodox view on sharks. Take a look at these highlighted shark facts, compiled by National Geographic News:
-Each year there are about 50 to 70 confirmed shark attacks and 5 to 15 shark attack fatalities around the world. The numbers have risen over the past few decades, not because sharks are more aggressive, but because humans have taken to coastal waters in increasing numbers.
-While sharks kill fewer than 20 people a year, their own numbers suffer greatly at human hands. Between 20 and 100 million sharks die each year due to fishing activity, according to data from the Florida Museum of Natural History's International Shark Attack File. The organization estimates that some shark populations have plummeted 30 to 50%.
-Sharks are known as eating machines. But because many species are cold-blooded, some sharks eat only about 2% of their body weight each day. That's a bit less than humans typically eat.
-Sharks are among Earth's most ancient animals. The fossil record dates ancestors of modern sharks to as far back as 400 million years ago. Shark species have changed relatively little during that time span and are sometimes called living fossils.
-Known in China as yu chi or "fish wings," shark fins are used to make the traditional delicacy shark-fin soup. The culturally celebrated but controversial soup is found widely in Asia and will even be on the menu at Hong Kong Disneyland when the park opens in September.
-Sharks are apex predators, and as such, they affect the entire ocean food chain from their position at the top. Because of their dominant role, sharks have long life spans and don't reach sexual maturity until they are 12 to 20 years old. Even then, sharks have low reproductive rates. Such predator populations, once diminished, have a hard time bouncing back.
-Thirty years ago the blockbuster Jaws brought the terror of shark attack to movie theaters. The record-breaking film, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on a bestselling novel by Peter Benchley, grossed nearly $130 million in the U.S. alone. The movie arguably made sharks public enemy number one.