Trump is 'obsessed' and 'terrified' of sharks – but his fears are excessive

You are more likely to die from a bicycle accident, lightning strike, or mauling by alligator or bear than from a shark attack

The president of the United States does not like sharks.

On 4 July 2013, before he took office, Donald Trump announced to the public a mix of disregard and seeming respect: “Sorry folks, I’m just not a fan of sharks – and don’t worry, they will be around long after we are gone.”

Two minutes later, he added: “Sharks are last on my list – other than perhaps the losers and haters of the World!”

On Friday, a long interview with an actor in pornographic films, Stephanie Clifford, provided more details of Trump’s apparent feelings.

Clifford, whose professional name is Stormy Daniels and who claimed in the interview to have had a 2006 affair with Trump, told InTouch magazine he was fascinated by the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week special.

“He is obsessed with sharks” she said. “Terrified of sharks. He was like, ‘I donate to all these charities and I would never donate to any charity that helps sharks. I hope all the sharks die.’ He was like riveted. He was like obsessed. It’s so strange, I know.”

The president’s fears are disproportionate.

There were 84 shark attacks worldwide in 2016, according to a University of Florida project, including four fatalities (none in the US). According to the National Safety Council, you are more likely to die from a bicycle accident, lightning strike, mauling by alligator or bear, dog bite, fireworks, tornado, wasp or bee sting, legal execution, fall from a bed, or an asteroid, than by a shark attack.

“More people are bitten by other people on the NYC subway than by sharks in the whole world,” tweeted David Shiffman, a conservation biologist at Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver. “Sharks are just not a threat to humans. And in fact, humans are better off with healthy shark populations than we are without healthy shark populations, because of the important ecosystem services that sharks provide.”

The oceans, which have served up food to humanity for millennia, would not be any healthier without sharks in them. Knocking apex predators off the top of the food chain is like cutting a leg out from a dinner table: it throws the whole thing off balance.

A Greenland shark, seen off Canada.
A Greenland shark, seen off Canada. Photograph: Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Creative/Getty Images

If sharks do not keep other animals in check, those animals wipe out their own food sources, which in turn create bizarre and often unhealthy conditions. Without natural competition, an ecosystem swings wildly between dominant species. After a while the winners do not seem to be humans, but algae and jellyfish – life that can thrive in undersea desolation.

Humans are flirting with such oceanic dystopia, killing as many as 100 million sharks a year, in accidental bycatch and en masse for shark finning. For several generations, shark populations have declined without much interest from the public, thanks in part to their often sensationalized portrayal, Shark Week included.

“If someone got all their shark facts from Shark Week, it’s no surprise they’d be terrified and oppose conservation,” Shiffman said.

On Capitol Hill on Friday, the Louisiana Republican senator John Kennedy was asked about Trump’s remarks. He declined to comment specifically but asked: “He didn’t curse about the sharks, did he?”

A tasselled wobbegong shark eats a brown-banded bamboo shark off Great Keppel Island, on the Great Barrier Reef.
A tasselled wobbegong eats a brown-banded bamboo shark off Great Keppel Island, on the Great Barrier Reef. Photograph: Reuters

Sharks are far from dead-eyed killers. They vary from anvil-headed lurkers to plant-eating Floridians, to several species of camouflaged ambush carpets. Increasingly, biologists have observed distinctive behaviors in individual sharks, including whale sharks and great whites.

Sharks have social lives, albeit mysterious ones. They have a literal sixth sense, some live in massive schools, and a few may have lived longer than the United States, through its founding, a civil war, two world wars and the election of Donald Trump.

In that regard, the president had a point: sharks have a knack for survival. Whether they can survive humans remains to be seen.

  • Additional reporting by Ben Jacobs in Washington

Contributor

Alan Yuhas

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Tiger sharks are not scared of hurricanes, US researchers say
‘It was as if they didn’t even flinch,’ researcher says as study finds tiger sharks’ presence consistent before and during storm

Victoria Bekiempis in New York

06, Jun, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Sharks use Earth’s magnetic field as ‘GPS’ guidance system, study says
Florida scientists use juvenile bonnetheads for research and say findings applicable to other ocean-going sharks

Richard Luscombe in Miami

17, May, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Snack attack: alligators like to eat sharks, study reveals
Researchers find American alligators are preying upon small sharks along Atlantic and Gulf coasts

Oliver Milman in New York

17, Oct, 2017 @9:20 PM

Article image
Reality bites: Trump's fear of sharks leads to surge in charity donations
Marine charities say they are benefitting from Stormy Daniels’ claim Trump is terrified of sharks

Martin Belam

25, Jan, 2018 @2:20 PM

Article image
Sharks fleeing toxic red tide take refuge in Florida canal
Lemon, blacktip, bonnethead and nurse sharks retreat from sea as state struggles to contain pollution problem

Richard Luscombe in Miami

02, Aug, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Cape Cod: eight great white sharks seen feeding on humpback whale carcass
Expert marvels at ‘biggest smorgasbord a shark could dream of’ but researchers monitor unusual mortality event among humpbacks

Richard Luscombe

30, Aug, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Experts say ‘cocaine sharks’ may be feasting on drugs dumped off Florida
Erratic behavior observed in some sharks could be result of them ingesting bales of cocaine cast overboard by passing traffickers

Richard Luscombe in Miami

22, Jul, 2023 @7:00 AM

Article image
'Buses with fins': giant basking sharks reappear off California coast
The marine behemoths, which can weigh more than 10,000 pounds, are returning in numbers not seen in decades

Maanvi Singh

08, May, 2019 @6:08 PM

Article image
California officials close beaches after man dies in shark attack
Thirty-one-year-old man, who appeared to be a bodyboarder, pronounced dead in San Luis Obispo county

Edward Helmore

25, Dec, 2021 @6:10 PM

Article image
Echoes of Jaws as Cape Cod learns to live with rise of the great white shark
A booming seal population is drawing the apex predator to the Massachusetts peninsula where contact with humans follows

Josh Wood in Wellfleet, Massachusetts

18, Jun, 2019 @5:00 AM