One of the greatest fears of open water swimmers – or anyone who ventures beyond a shoreline – is sharks. Big or little, aggressive or docile, deep sea or shallow water, sharks strike the fear in most people.

For others, from Chris ‘El Sharko’ Blakeslee in San Francisco Bay to Ned Denison from Santa Barbara to South Africa, sharks are just part of the game. In fact, they are also part of the allure for some. We have often heard words of quiet pride when an open water swimmer or triathlete explains a shark encounter to his friends, neighbors and teammates.

While the moment of a shark encounter or a shark sighting usually creates momentary fear and an elevated heart rate for most, the experience is not only unforgettable, but it also serves as fodder for innumerable discussions and talks over time.

But whether the shark encounter is dreaded or welcomed, the possibility of meeting sharks over the next few generations will become increasingly rare. As mankind gradually eliminates the apex predators from the world’s oceans, its greatest impact will be on an imbalanced marine ecosystem. But open water swimmers and triathletes will also be impacted as the source of their greatest fears will be eliminated.

Time Magazine reported that an estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year. At the minimum, this slaughter currently represents 6.4% of the entire world’s shark population. This rate of elimination exceeds the 4.9% that would allow the shark population to be stable. So as the shark population decreases, its total elimination will be rapidly dialed forward.

Fear of sharks is one thing. The extinction of the shark species is something entirely different.

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