Sunday was the start of Discovery’s Shark Week, an entire week dedicated to sharks. Many people view sharks as vicious man-eating predators, but in reality, that is not the case.

Marc Dean, with Family Fun Scuba in Billings, Montana, sat down with yourbigsky to squash some common misconceptions about sharks. One misconception is that all sharks are vicious man-eating creatures that are highly aggressive. Sharks tend to avoid any interactions with humans, and if they bite a person, it is most likely because they are curious, but it is very rare for a shark to seek out a human actively. 

The movie Soul Surfer is a true story about a surfer, Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm after a tiger shark ripped it almost entirely off 100 yards from the shore. It could have quickly finished her and thought nothing of it. Sharks usually have no interest in humans; the most logical explanation is that the shark was curious. Once it realized it was not something they usually eat, the shark took off to find something else. 

There’s also another shark movie that has struck fear into many since 1975: Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. When this movie first came out, most people were petrified to enter any water body, including public pools. While this film was a box office hit, it also put a stigma around sharks in general.

Another misconception is all sharks must keep swimming or else they will die. Some sharks need to do this like great whites, but others, like the nerf and white reef sharks, can stop swimming and be perfectly fine. When people think of dangerous sharks, the first thing that likely comes to mind is the great white. But the most dangerous shark species is the bull shark, which can go into saltwater and freshwater. These sharks have high testosterone levels, a problem in New York during the early 1900s.

Since the release of The Meg, theories have spread that the prehistoric megalodon shark still lurks in the depths of the oceans. Dean says the possibility of that is extremely unlikely. If they were around, there would be many of them in the ocean since they do not have any known predators. 

The biggest threat to sharks now is humans. Many countries like China kill millions of sharks yearly for shark fin soup. Boats find sharks, remove their fins for the soup, and throw them back into the ocean. Sharks need their fins to swim; without them, they sink to the bottom of the ocean and drown. Islands such as the Galapagos islands are being nearly eradicated of sharks to make this soup. 

This can relate to people in the 1800s killing buffalo on the prairie when settlers would kill the bison, cape them, and leave the rest of the body to rot. These killings became so common that humans almost wiped out the buffalo population and were very close to becoming extinct. 

Dean said some people who come into Family Fun say, “I would love to dive in the ocean, but I’m afraid of sharks.” In reality, scuba divers have very low statistics of being bitten by a shark while diving. Dean adds that he has swum around thousands of sharks and feels lucky to have had that experience. He also added that sharks often swim away from divers as they have no interest in interacting with them. 

Some may wonder, “What do sharks have to do with Montana?” The answer is a lot. While Montanas are far away from oceans, this issue can be related to other things Montanans face, like coyotes. Many farmers and ranchers see coyotes and want to kill them before they kill their livestock. While this is not an irrational reaction, coyotes are not killing things because they are evil: It is simply doing what it knows best. The same goes with sharks; attacks don’t happen because they are bloodthirsty man-eating creatures; it happens because that’s what they do. 

Sharks are important creatures for the earth’s ecosystem: without them, the world would most likely be a very different place. No matter where you live, caring about these animals that have been swimming in the ocean since dinosaurs roamed the earth is essential.

And for those petrified of sharks, have no fear: you have a higher chance of being killed by land animals than you ever would a shark.