Sharks get a bad rap in media. Whether they’re in news reports for attacking people or in scary movies about, well, attacking people, sharks inspire fear for many. Which is a shame, because as marine biologist Ocean Ramsey points out, sharks are beautiful creatures, and more importantly, a vital part of our ocean’s ecosystem.
Since she was a little girl, Ramsey has loved sharks. She saw her first shark at age 7 or 8, and her encounter with the majestic animal left her completely enamored. So it’s unthinkable to her that there are people out there that could hate or kill them. But people are killing them, and in huge numbers.
“Currently, sharks are being killed at a rate that averages out to two to three sharks every second,” Ramsey says. “That’s 70 to a 100 million sharks being killed every year.”
That’s a horrible amount of shark dying, and the worst part is, they’re mostly being killed just for their fins. Ramsey says that the fins are a status symbol and delicacy used in shark fin soup in Asia. The food, which utilizes less than 5% of the shark, is contributing to so many sharks being killed that they may go extinct in our lifetime. This would be devastating.
“Without sharks, it’s like being without an immune system,” she says. “Fisheries collapse, diseases spread, and you have major degradation of reefs and local ecosystems.”
To combat this devastation, Ramsey is working to change the way we think about sharks. Through her work, she hopes to educate the public about how important and special the creatures are, replacing fear with fascination. Or at the very least, she says, a healthy respect for their place on our Earth. She’d like shark ecotourism to take off, saying it’s much more sustainable than killing them for their fins. And hopes that the public will become more involved with campaigns and conservation efforts to save them. If people only took the time to see sharks, she knows they’d love them as much as she does.
“I definitely encourage people to go out there, dive in, and see a shark for yourself,” Ramsey says. “It’s so amazing the first time a shark swims by, and locks eyes with you. You really realize how intelligent they are.”
It’s an uphill battle to change public perception about the oft-misunderstood creature. But one that desperately needs to be fought. Because like many wild animals, we’re much more dangerous to them than they are to us.