BBC Earth

Getting to know sharks

Rachel Butler, assistant producer


Growing up I was scared of sharks and thought, like most, that they were cold-blooded man-eaters. Being a marine biologist I knew they could sense your heartbeat and smell a drop of blood from a considerable distance. In reaction to the shark fishing industry I thought “surely an ocean with fewer sharks was a better place?” How terribly wrong I was!

Seven years ago I had my first experience swimming with and tagging a hammerhead; it was a thrilling experience, but what surprised me was how little interest the shark took in my diving buddy and me.

During filming for Shark I have been amazed by their diversity, varied behaviour and their character – my misconception has been blown out of the water. I’ve been swimming with epaulettes – bashful looking sharks about 70cm (27.5in) long with mouths adapted to sucking in worms and crabs; shy and endearing lemon sharks that form childhood friendships; and the menacing looking ragged tooth sharks, which are more scared of us than we are of them!

In over two years of filming sharks all over the world, we got closer than ever to these formidable animals… and there was not one dangerous encounter. They are probably the most misunderstood group of animals on the planet and do not intend us any harm. I can write this first-hand after being eye-balled underwater by seven tiger sharks whilst they were hunting!

With this new understanding, I’ve learnt it is unacceptable for the shark fishing trade to continue killing 100 million sharks a year. Not only because we shouldn’t be responsible for the extinction of animals that have outlived the dinosaurs, or because they are essential to the fragile ocean food web, but because they are intelligent, complex and vulnerable creatures.