Those Terrifying Shark Myths, and the Truth Behind Them, Part II

Still myth-informed about sharks? Here’s the truth behind a few more common shark myths.

Aaaand we’re back, with even more shark myths to marvel over. In Part I of this article, we discussed the reality behind stories about maneaters, exploded the myth that sharks can only live in saltwater, and did away with the idea that all sharks have to keep moving in order to survive (some don’t).

But there are nearly as many myths about sharks as there are shark species. Given that we know of at least 350 species of sharks (and there may be as many as 500 out there), that’s a heckuva lot of myths. So sit right back and enjoy, on us, another heaping helping of shark mythology — seasoned with tart reality.

Myth 1: Sharks have no natural enemies.

No doubt Jaws and her buddies would love for this shark myth to be true, but it isn’t. Not only do big sharks often eat little sharks, there’s one particular predator that really does a number on sharks, killing as many as 100 million annually. They call themselves “humans.”

While some sharks are caught and killed for sport or food, most are killed for their fins only. Once their fins are hacked off, they’re dumped overboard to bleed to death. Aside from us, natural parasites can also kill sharks if too many attack the same animal all at once.

Myth 2: Sharks are really stupid.

While no shark is likely to be matriculating in Harvard this year, by and large the concept of their stupidity is a shark myth. Admittedly, some species are smarter than others. Lemon sharks, for example, seem to learn about as well as a rabbit or a cat, but compared to chickens, they’re full-fledged geniuses.

Myth 3: All sharks eat constantly.

Not true. How much a shark eats depends on its metabolism and food availability. Even in situations where food is plentiful, some sharks (lemon sharks as an example) eat less than two percent of their body weight per day, which isn’t much different from the amount the average mammal eats.

Possible truth to this shark myth, however, does exist: filter feeders like basking and whale sharks have to strain an enormous amount of water each day to get all the sustenance they need. That being the case, they may need to feed actively for a substantial part of the day, depending on where they’re feeding.

Myth 4: Shark meat is poisonous or inedible.

By no means is shark meat poisonous — remember shark fin soup? Actually, shark meat can be quite tasty if prepared properly, particularly if the shark in question is relatively small. The larger the shark is, the less tender the meat is likely to be; but even then, it’s still edible.

According to seafood connoisseurs, in fact, some sharks are among the tastiest fish in the sea. So next time you’re at your favorite seafood restaurant, rather than fall for this old shark myth, try reversing the expected order of things — and instead of the shark eating a human, why not let a human eat the shark?