Shark attacks: What you know about sharks is wrong

Going for a dip in shark territory is scarier than popping a bottle of champagne.

But the latter actually kills more people each year than our most feared ocean predator.

Sydney shark keeper Aaron Hay said on average 24 people died a year being hit in the head by a flying cork, compared to six or seven being killed by sharks around the world.

The avid shark lover said the biggest misconception about sharks was that they were out to eat humans.

And the next time you’re teetering on the edge of a cliff taking a selfie, you’re more likely to die doing that dangerous act than being eaten when you fall in the water.

“Taking a dangerous selfie is more dangerous than swimming in the ocean,” Mr. Hay said.

“The biggest misconception would be that sharks are actually out there just to hunt and eat humans. They actually find us incredibly unpalatable. They don’t like the taste of us at all.

“It’s one of those things that’s been around a long time thanks to a lot of different movies, and that word-of-mouth viral video stuff.”

In contrasts humans are killing 100 million sharks a year, whether it be for food, medicine or through culling methods.

Mr. Hay said the small number of people who did die in shark attacks had just sadly fallen victim to a “test bite”.

He said swimming humans just looked like “big black squares” sharks mistook for a tasty, injured and “easy target” seal or turtle.

“That test bite can do some damage,” Mr. Hay said.

“They don’t have hands like we do to feel first — all they’ve got is their sense of smell and a mouth and unfortunately that mouth has very sharp teeth.

“Humans are quite skinny and have a lot of bones and don’t have a lot of meat like a nice, big juicy piece of seal or turtle.”

The aquarist at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, who works with 10 different species of sharks, has shared some other common misconceptions for Shark Awareness Day this Saturday.


MYTH: If you swim deep into the ocean you will be attacked by a shark.

FACT: Sharks kill around six people per year around the world — whereas humans kill up to 100 million sharks per year. You also actually have a greater chance of being killed by a flying champagne cork than you do of being attacked by a shark.

MYTH: Sharks deliberately attack humans.

FACT: If a shark attacks a human, chances are it has mistaken you for a fish. They actually find us unpalatable.

MYTH: All sharks are big with sharp teeth.

FACT: Sharks come in all different shapes and sizes, from the great white shark to little wobbegongs or reef sharks.

MYTH: Sharks are not important.

FACT: Sharks play a pivotal role in keeping ocean ecosystems healthy and balanced by keeping fish populations in check. Without sharks, fish would overgraze and destroy our oceans.

Mr. Hay developed a love for sharks when he was a young boy playing ‘I Spy’ games in the family car — no matter what letter he or someone else chose, his answer would always be ‘SHARK!’.

During his first visit to an aquarium at the age of five, he ran away from his family and was found sitting in front of the shark tank in awe, where he remained for hours.

Mr. Hay said he never knew that years later, after completing a Bachelors Degree in Animal Veterinary Bioscience from the University of Sydney, he would return for work experience at the aquarium.

In 2014, he joined the Sea Life team where he has “turned an obsession into a career”, caring for grey nurse sharks to small reef sharks.

Mr. Hay has travelled around the world to swim with big sharks, his most memorable being a 4m-long, 300kg bull shark in Fiji — one of the largest in the world.

“You would dive to 30m deep and there are countless bull sharks swimming around you and they’re feeding right in front of you and there’s nothing to be concerned about,” he said.

“They (Fijians) have a huge relationship with these sharks because they believe mother Earth has given them.

“These sharks are living in our waterways and we have to expect where they are.”

This story originally appeared in