The great white shark gets a bad rap. Even the name conjures images of that approaching fatal fin… the chilling music as ‘Bruce’ (yes, Bruce, the infamous mechanical shark who portrayed Jaws) lurks beneath the water…
According to writer and naturalist Sy Montgomery, it’s time to set the record straight. “If you look at the numbers, your chances of being hurt by a great white shark, they’re actually one in 37 million,” Montgomery said in an interview with Boston Public Radio Thursday. “Whereas your chances of being injured by a toaster or a toilet or a room freshener are much higher than that!”
Citing a 1984-1987 study showing 1,600 New Yorkers suffering from bites from other humans, Montgomery stressed that shark attacks against humans pale in comparison. “If you’re not afraid to go into your bathroom where the deadly toilet is lurking, or into the kitchen where, oh no, there might be a malfunctioning toaster,” she said, “you shouldn’t be afraid to go into the waters of the Cape.”
With the help of photographer Keith Ellenbogen and biologist and “shark expert” Dr. Greg Skomal, that’s exactly what Montgomery did— she took to the Cape to investigate, gathering photographs and research for her latest book, The Great White Shark Scientist. “They’re these beautiful creatures,” Montgomery said. “When I saw them in the crystal-clear waters off Guadalupe, as you know, the waters of the cape are murky and green, but when you see them up-close, where a lot of these photos were taken and where I dove with Keith in a shark cage, the animal is so handsome and so beautiful, and when you see it, it looks like the most elegant fellow that you ever saw, like a knight in white satin. They’re just gorgeous animals, and they don’t seem menacing at all.”
According to Montgomery, the great white shark has only recently taken up residence in the shores of the Cape, which has inspired Dr. Skomal’s recent research. “In the past ten years, they’ve started showing up, and they’re drawn by grey seals, whose numbers have rebounded since the marine mammal protection act of 1972,” Montgomery said. “They want to know how many great white sharks are out there, for a number of reasons. One, it would be nice to know, since people are swimming here and we want to protect the people, but also, shark numbers all over the world are in trouble.”
Not every shark species is in trouble, Montgomery says, but while 11 people are killed by sharks every year, humans are killing 100 million. This leaves one third of all sharks in danger. “Greg’s goal is twofold,” she said. “One, he wants to know how many animals are out there so that we can keep people safe, and two, he wants to see these animals survive, and we want to know how many are out there, and where they’re going and what they’re doing.”
Sy Montgomery is a writer and a naturalist. To hear her full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.