Despite their reputation as bloodthirsty predators, sharks attack human beings an average 50-70 times per year globally. A human has only a one in 3.7 million chance of being fatally attacked by a shark.
Chris Fischer, founding chairman of shark research organization Ocearch, hopes that by educating people about sharks, he can change the public’s perception of these creatures from man-eating monster to fascinating predator essential to the ocean’s ecosystem.
The public will have the opportunity to hear Fischer speak Sept. 8 at Cape Fear Community College’s Union Station. In an evening presented by the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher and CFCC, Fischer will share information about his own journey to become a recognized leader in ocean exploration research, conservation and education.
Peggy Sloan, director of the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, said when she found out Fischer was going to be in Pinehurst for a major event, she reached out to see if he would be willing to make a side trip to Wilmington. She said although this event would likely sell out, she hoped it would lead to future events.
“Chris is sort of the rock star, and the white shark is the rock star fish,” she said. “We hope that it will go well and that [in the future]we can do something even larger with more lead time and more capacity because Union Station can only hold 300 people.”
Fischer will also speak about Ocearch’s popular Global Shark Tracker, which tracks and documents the movements of sharks around the world.
Ocearch scientists implant tracking chips on sharks’ dorsal fins and the chips ping data to a satellite. Each ping appears in real time on Ocearch’s website. The shark tracker became of particular interest to Wrightsville Beach residents in early 2013 when it showed a 16-foot, 3,456-pound female great white named Mary Lee making her way from Masons Inlet to Crystal Pier.
Great white sharks Katharine, Lydia, Miss Michalove and Anne Morrow have also passed near the Wrightsville coastline. If the names sound non-threatening, it is intentional. Fischer said naming the sharks helped dissolve the aura of fear surrounding them.
“It gives you something to connect to,” Fischer said during an Aug. 29 phone interview. “It used to be, every time people were talking about sharks you could hear that theme music from ‘Jaws.’ Now people are talking about Mary Lee and Katharine. … We’ve shifted the tone of the conversation around sharks in a radical way.”
Fischer said open sharing of knowledge and research was another key to changing the perception of great white sharks. He said he wants everyone to feel involved in the Ocearch project so they are aware of what is impacting their ocean’s future and what they can do to help preserve the ecosystem.
“We need a global ocean movement if we’re going to make sure there’s plenty of fish for our kids to eat when they grow up,” Fischer said. “No one owns the sharks, so we should all be included in the project of trying to solve the puzzle of their lives and ensure their futures.”
Although no one owns the sharks, the Wrightsville Beach community might feel a particular connection to the shark named Mary Lee, as she seems to have a fondness for the Cape Fear coastline. Mary Lee could be a favorite of Fischer’s as well.
“She’s named after my mom,” he said.
Tickets may be reserved up until 4 p.m. Sept. 8 by visiting www.ncaquariums.com/fort-fisher