A review of new book Demon Fish and the truth about sharks—from their mating rituals to the real odds of being attacked:
There were 75 verified shark attacks last year, and 12 fatalities. Even in the US, a global hotspot, you are forty times more likely to be hospitalised by a Christmas tree ornament than by a shark. Meanwhile, to supply the shark fin soup trade alone, an estimated 73 million sharks are killed each year. Many shark populations have declined by 70 per cent or more in the last thirty years. One reason little is done about this is that although their fins fetch high prices, shark fisheries are of negligible economic value compared to, say, tuna or cod or herring, so little is done to protect stocks. And then of course humans tend to make more of a fuss over animals we can relate to – because they stand on two legs or live in charming family units, or are unthreateningly charismatic. One of the recent PR successes of the shark conservationists is the ‘walking shark’, which crawls along the sea bottom on its fins and has an appealing little face. The best-protected species are the big, peaceful filter feeders, the basking shark and particularly the whale shark, with its photogenic polka dots and mysterious long-range migration patterns. But we’re gradually becoming more enlightened. The third best-protected species is the great white, described approvingly here by E.O. Wilson as ‘one of the four or five last great predators of humanity’.