Predators become prey: Humans fear sharks but sharks should fear humans

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If director Steven Spielberg ever made a sequel to "Jaws," his 1975 blockbuster about a freakishly malicious white shark that terrorized a resort beach, it would have to be updated to fit today's grim realities. Instead of humans being at risk when the movie's ominous music cues up, it would be the sharks that would be in danger.

According to a new study compiled by researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, 100 million sharks are estimated to be killed annually thanks to illegal shark fishing -- and that's a conservative estimate. The actual number of sharks slaughtered for their dorsal fins every year could be as high as 273 million according to the study, putting creatures that pre-date the dinosaurs on the slippery slope to extinction.

Annual shark on human attacks number less than a dozen around the world every year, but they receive disproportionate amounts of media attention because the creatures are so fearsome. There's little sympathy for sharks because of our own primordial fear of them.

The populations of some sharks like the iconic hammerheads of the Mediterranean have plunged as much as 99 percent. Oceanic whitetip sharks have practically disappeared from the Gulf of Mexico. The population of whitetips is down by 90 percent in the Pacific and 70 percent in the Northwest Atlantic.

The fate of sharks is among the list of topics discussed at this year's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in Bangkok. Representatives from 177 countries already agree that averting the expansion of what can only be described as a shark holocaust is a top priority.

Sharks are an invaluable part of the world's biodiversity and a sign of the health of the oceans. The disappearance of such fearsome but indispensable creatures because of greed is an indictment of our species.

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