Sharks love the smell of menstrual blood and other shark myths busted

shark week

Well, Seal the singer is probably safe. Unlike the demise he meets via shark in this year’s Shark Week commercials. Disclaimer: the seal, as in the animal, may be a lot less safe. But sharks are wonderful anyway.

I am a shark enthusiast so, naturally, I am obsessed with Shark Week, and basically all things shark-related. My love of these animals definitely started with years of watching the docuseries that highlights all the cool things about the kings of the ocean. Which is great, because Shark Week is about educating the public about sharks and why they are important. And – except for a few years where fake documentaries were a thing during Shark Week – it’s done a great job highlighting sharks for what they really are. However, there are still specials about shark attacks or movies about shark terminators that scare people to their core. In order to get people to understand why shark conservation is vital, it’s important for them to know the truth about them.

Shark myths are rampant, but busting those myths is important because our oceans wouldn’t be the same without them.

Myth: Sharks Eat Humans

Humans are gross, especially for sharks. A seal is a natural food source for a shark (not the singer) but humans are not. So, when you’re watching Jaws or The Shallows, know that you’re watching a horror movie intended to exploit your fear of giant mysterious fish.

We’ve all heard how unlikely it is for you to be killed by a shark, but I’ve always thought, “Well, that number probably isn’t true for surfers. Most people in the U.S. don’t even live by an ocean, so of course the likelihood is low for most which skews the data.” In reality, the odds of a shark attack are even super low for surfers. Studies show that a surfer in California has a 1 in 17 million chance of being bitten by a shark, and the risk continues to drop. The most common surfing injuries continue to be neck injuries, lacerations, and sprains — not becoming shark snacks.

In fact, many shark attack situations are a case of mistaken identity or sharks taking an “exploratory bite” from something to see what it is, not because sharks are hunting humans.

Myth: All Sharks are Dangerous

There are hundreds of species of sharks but only a handful of them are considered dangerous and are the species responsible for the majority of shark incidents across the world. The great white, tiger shark, and bull shark are the sharks that tend to give the rest a bad name. Not only that, but most shark incidents are due to sharks being provoked. When they are speared, hooked, or captured, they’re perceiving the human as a threat, not a food source.

Most shark species keep to themselves, living their little shark lives without having to encounter their most dangerous predator — humans. Yes, it’s true that most sharks are carnivorous predators, but none of them are ever in the mood to eat some humans. We should all be exercising caution around any animal, but most sharks are not dangerous to humans.

Myth: Sharks Don’t Matter

The difficult thing about shark conservation is that sharks aren’t easy to love.

It’s much easier to raise awareness for a cuddly panda or a lovable elephant than it is to raise awareness for a murdery fish. However, sharks are extremely important for our marine communities.

In order to keep the delicate balance of life in our oceans, we need sharks. Without sharks, our oceans could be seas of thick green algae instead of seas of beautiful blue water. Sharks eat the fish that eat algae eating fish. Without sharks, algae eating fish are bombarded by predators and boom, we have algae overload. This example is duplicated all over the ocean, and without sharks, everything will be out of whack.

In fact, where there was shark overfishing near North Carolina, the scallop population was basically ruined. Where there are no sharks there are more rays. Where there are more rays they will eat more scallops. Now there aren’t scallops – which is bad for us, and bad for rays.

Myth: Megalodon Might Seek Revenge on Me

There were some dark Shark Week years where they decided to show a couple of fake documentaries about sharks that weren’t advertised as being fake. So, if you’re watching Shark Week looking for shark facts and all of a sudden there’s a documentary about how a ginormous prehistoric shark called Megalodon might still be living today, it could be confusing. Not to mention terrifying, as Megalodon was about 60 feet long (the average great white is only a measly 20 feet long, on the larger side).

So much controversy surrounded these fake shows that the Discovery Channel’s new president decided mockumentaries were not going to be a part of the best week in television any longer. Rest assured, not only are sharks incapable of revenge, Megalodon is long gone. There are several theories about how this apex legend went extinct, but scientists all agree there’s no chance they are still out there.

Myth: Sharks are Mindless and Bloodthirsty

Let’s start with the mindless part. Sharks don’t have the mental capacity of a killer whale or a dolphin, both highly intelligent animals, but they are not mindless by any means. Their brains are highly complex, with a large portion  dedicated to olfactory organs. They can exhibit complex social behavior, communicate with body language, live in groups, and hunt together in a pack. Some shark species have been trained, have shown problem-solving skills, and tend to be very curious.

As for bloodthirsty, sharks do have an amazing nose for smelling blood, but their abilities have been exaggerated and twisted. Since so much of their brain is used for their smeller, they have the ability to decide which blood they are looking for. One common myth is that sharks can smell menstrual blood, for instance. Chances are they cannot, but even if they were near enough, it’s not something they are interested in. What they want to detect are the amino acids from the blood, guts, and gooey bits of marine animals — the creatures sharks evolved to eat. Our blood, sweat, tears, pee, and cervical mucus are just static noise, according to Rachel Feltman at Popular Science.

The Real Truth About Sharks

Here’s the real truth about sharks: they are cool and beautiful and in a lot of danger.

Sharks have skin basically made of teeth, they don’t have bones, they can be pregnant for about two years, and many give birth to live pups. Some sharks can cycle through 35,000 teeth in their lifetime, some sharks eat their siblings in the womb, and the smallest shark species is about 6 inches long.

They’ve been living for 400 million years and now we’ve severely diminished their populations. Overfishing, shark finning, and habitat loss are all destroying sharks in alarming numbers. One-hundred million sharks are killed annually by humans, and for a species that has remained unchanged and dominating the oceans for so long, it’s heartbreaking that humans can make such a terrifying difference. Climate change is affecting public health, oceans, forests, glaciers, lakes, reefs, and every animal whose habitat is affected.

To make a difference for sharks, learn about them! You can also be a conscious consumer and stay away from shark fin soup, chondroitin supplements, or any food/brand that contains shark or shark oils. Donate to shark conservation, educate others about cool shark things, support legislation that protects sharks and their habitats, and be environmentally conscious. Sharks need us to repair what we’ve done, and so do all of the other aspects of the ocean being affected by diminishing shark populations.

Sharks are naturally pretty scary animals, but it’s important to note that much of that fear comes from hollywood sensationalism and a misunderstanding of one of the most sophisticated creatures in the ocean. Sharks don’t want to eat you, they matter a lot to our oceans, and mostly they just want to eat a seal (not Seal), and move on with their lives without falling victim to a human.

Sharks are sleek, badass, graceful, and amazing and our world wouldn’t be the same without them. So get out there, hug a shark (JK don’t do that), and watch Shark Week at the end of July to learn more.