NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

April 12, 2013

Attacking shark myths

Amesbury woman raises awareness for most-feared fish

(Continued)

That’s where the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy comes in. By educating the public and working to dispel myths and fears about the species, the group seeks to grow respect for the shark that other predators receive, such as lions and tigers, and stop the idea that sharks are “monsters.”

Humans must be aware of how their water activities and recreation affect the animals that live in the ocean, they say. Learning about the behavior of great white sharks can help to protect humans — and the sharks, Wigren said.

“Great white sharks are not man-eaters,” Wigren said, which she calls one of the biggest misconceptions about the species. Great whites do not target humans as their prey, she added, and they typically bite due to a case of mistaken identity.

A shark will bite, then release once he realizes his unintended prey, she added, but because humans are so fragile, the encounters can be fatal.

Fortunately, shark attacks are relatively rare. A 2011 study reveals that 12 people were killed worldwide by sharks. But in that same year, 11,417 sharks were killed by humans — each hour.

But Wigren does not downplay tragic human-shark encounters. Preventing such tragedies from occurring is of paramount importance to AWSC.

They have cultivated relationships with researchers throughout the world. Much of the information gained about great white sharks, including their breeding habits and nursing sites, is through the scientific practice of tagging.

In this “tag-team” effort, expert fishermen and scientists working together — from a small boat — use a modified harpoon gun to insert a satellite or acoustic tag beneath the animal’s dorsal fin. These tags lasts last between one and four years and allow scientists to track the shark’s migration patterns.

With a goal of inspiring future generations to care about our ocean ecosystem’s “keystone species,” AWSC has developed a Shark Activity Book, geared to youth, ages 4 through 15, which can be used as part of a classroom lesson.

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