Like many aquatic creatures, sharks are shrouded in legend. Some believe that they can sense fear (which, maybe). Some believe that they can smell a drop of blood from a mile away (which, no chance). And some believe they have an insatiable taste for dog meat (which, we need to have a talk about that one).
Sadly, most of what the general public assumes about sharks — including their alleged appetite for canines — comes from the classic American thriller Jaws. One of the movie’s early scenes features a man calling for his dog, Pipit (also known as Tippit, Pippin, Pippet and Pippit), who was previously seen playing fetch with a stick in the ocean. The dog is never seen again, and according to the imperative website doesthedogdie.com, “Pippin the Dog enjoys fetching his stick until he is presumably eaten by Jaws the Shark.” This scene initially led people to believe that sharks have a special kind of hunger for dogs.
Before we move forward with this distressing topic, I suggest you take a brief moment to de-stress by watching Paws, a short but sweet Jaws parody:
Decades after Jaws was released, the notion that sharks eat dogs was further spread by British tabloid The Sun in 2005, when they reported that dogs were being used as live shark bait in the French territory of Réunion Island. There was a speck of truth to this — Réunion Island at the time had a large population of unwanted stray dogs, and a confined group of amateur fishermen were attaching already-perished animals to buoyed shark traps — but in hindsight, it was never widespread. Nonetheless, the rumor garnered a lot of attention, further convincing many that sharks have a penchant for eating dogs.
Now, you could make an argument that dogs splash around when they swim, which would maybe alert nearby sharks. “Certain behaviors, like erratic swimming, splashing and panicked motions by any species could mimic prey items usually found on a shark’s menu,” explains marine biologist and underwater cameraman Duncan Brake. “These signals can be picked up by a shark’s non-visual senses, like their lateral lines, ampullae of lorenzini and amazing hearing, which may lead a shark to investigate further.”
Some have used this logic to suggest that swimming with your dog makes you more of a shark target — one analysis of shark-attack statistics found that furry animals were involved in one in 25 shark attacks on people (which, to me, sounds like people are the ones attracting sharks to their dogs, not the other way around).
However, as marine ecologist Charlie Huveneers explained to the Sydney Morning Herald, “While sharks can be attracted to sound, most swimmers make more sound than a swimming dog.” Therefore, sharks should be just as interested in attacking you as they are in attacking dogs — and statistically speaking, sharks are almost entirely uninterested in eating you or your dog. Not a single year since at least 2010 has seen more than 100 reported shark attacks (going by the one in 25 statistic, that means dogs are involved in four reported shark-on-human attacks per year at most), the vast majority of which are non-lethal, because sharks prefer fatty prey and are quick to realize that humans (and dogs) aren’t blubbery seals. Conversely, humans kill 100 million sharks each year, making them the real victims here.
None of this is to say sharks attacking dogs is unheard of — there are also stories of dogs attacking freaking sharks, sometimes to save their owners. But the idea that sharks are bloodthirsty beasts intent on swallowing dogs or humans is entirely untrue.
In reality, we happen to be the bloodthirsty beasts.