Fake News! 5 Common Myths About Sharks

By AT&T Digital Media Productions editorial team

Sharks are scary: fact. Sharks hunt for human flesh: alternative fact. This is just one of many shark myths that continue to endure, thanks in large part to big budget scare films.

It’s time to put these myths to rest. Here are six common shark myths and the actual facts behind them.


Myth #1: Punching a shark in the nose will help you fight it off

For starters, this is a highly unlikely scenario. But if you do find yourself face-to-face with a shark, your best defense is NOT to punch them in the nose. An understanding of basic biology reveals that the nose is fairly close to the mouth. So if you miss, well you know what happens next.

The best defense is actually to hit the shark in its gills or the eyes, where sharks are most sensitive. Quick jabs will work best—maybe try watching Rocky instead of Jaws.


Myth #2: Sharks dislike the taste of human flesh

While sharks certainly enjoy a nice meaty seal or tuna more than bony human meat, it is not true that they dislike the taste of human, per se.

Sharks use their teeth much the same way humans use their hands. So when a shark bites, it is curious to find out what we are. When it swims away after the initial bite, that means the shark has accomplished its investigation.



Myth #3: The great white is the most aggressive breed of shark

Okay, great whites are pretty terrifying, and have been involved in the most reported attacks. But, if we’re getting technical, they’re certainly not the most aggressive (unless you’re a seal). Here, the bull shark takes the cake.

Comfortable hunting in both fresh and saltwater, specifically in shallow waters, the bull shark can swim in short bursts up to 11 mph. For reference, Michael Phelps clocks in at less than half that speed. And with almost no tolerance for provocation, the bull shark isn’t taking any bull.

In fact, the shark attacks that inspired Jaws may have been blamed on the wrong breed. Just days after the suspected great white was caught, a bull shark was caught in an area where 3 of the 12 attacks occurred.


Nina B/Shutterstock

Myth #4: Sharks are the top of the oceanic food chain

If sharks don’t claim the chum crown, then who? It’s actually the orca. Part of the dolphin family, these killer whales have no natural predators (looking at you, whale hunters), hunt in packs, and have been known to eat everything from sharks to other whales. At over 20 feet long, and weighing up to 6 tons, that’s not too much of a surprise.


Myth #5: Sharks will die if they don’t keep swimming

Sharks breathe in two ways: buccal pumping and ram ventilation. In the former, the sharks muscles pull water in and send it to the gill membranes and out the gill slits, soaking up oxygen from the water as it passes through. The latter happens when sharks swim fast: the shark processes oxygen from water it takes in through its mouth.

Some sharks don’t have strong enough muscles to use buccal pumping, but researchers have seen these same sharks rest in caves and on seafloors. It is unclear how these sharks deal with the loss of oxygen.

Next time you’re in the ocean, try not to think too much about sharks. But if you must, remember that the scariest one is extinct, whales (dolphins?) have your back, and aim for the gills!

Looking for more shark myths debunked? Tune in to Discovery on July 22nd for the 30th anniversary of Shark Week.