Half of Dutch people swim with sharks without their knowledge

Sharks are often viewed as life-threatening creatures. And without justification, because there are only about 60 sharks encounters every year, less than 10 of which are lethal. This is much fewer than the mosquito, hippopotamus, or even the cow. The media tends to highlight the rare attacks, and the suite of horrifying Hollywood blockbusters portraying sharks as cold-blooded killers don’t do them any favors either. Many people don’t know that sharks are important for maintaining the health of the oceans and coral reefs, and that one-quarter of all shark species is threatened with extinction. This is why the Save Our Sharks campaign was set up: to improve the image of sharks, and contribute to proper conservation in the waters of the Dutch Kingdom. Within the framework of the campaign, Save Our Sharks commissioned students from Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences to conduct a survey amongst 300 people in the Netherlands. How much do we actually know about our sharks?

Image problem
Amongst the respondents, 88% recognize that sharks have an image problem, and that media coverage of sharks is often unrealistic. Nevertheless, almost half of the people (47%) do think that sharks are a danger to humans. Most people know that hippopotami generally cause more lethal victims on a yearly basis than sharks do. But they do hold sharks responsible for more lethal encounters than for instance cows and deer, both of which cause a ten-fold of lethal encounters every year. The majority of respondents rightfully know that bears are more dangerous to hikers than sharks are to swimmers.

Fear of the water

Foto door Peter Verhoog/ Dutch Shark Society
Photo by Peter Verhoog

The fear of a shark emerging from the deep seems to be embedded in the mind of Dutch people, as suggested by the 61% of people claiming they would rather not swim in a location where sharks occur. Apparently, some of these people are not aware that sharks also live in our North Sea because 55% of them do like to swim in the North Sea. Shark species in the North Sea, which are completely harmless, are common along the Dutch coast and even in the Oosterschelde estuary, and other estuaries of the North Sea, where recreation is widespread. Only 15% of people will avoid a holiday destination that is known for the occurrence of sharks.

Shark fin soup
In spite of the apparent fear of sharks, their conservation is considered to be of importance. Three-quarters of the respondents thought that marine reserves and limiting shark fisheries can be effective measures to protect sharks. Almost everybody (97%) claimed finning should be prohibited globally, and only 5% still orders shark fin soup in Chinese restaurants.

Of course, it is good news that so many of the respondents support shark conservation”, says Irene Kingma, project manager of Save Our Sharks in the Netherlands.However, the outcome of this survey does indicate a need for continued education, to help people get a more realistic image of sharks and their danger to humans.”

Check out some more of the results below:

Survey results-shark conservation
Survey results- perception sharks