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Academic & Professional Books  Marine & Freshwater Biology  Fishes  Sharks & Rays

Why Sharks Matter A Deep Dive with the World's Most Misunderstood Predator

By: David Shiffman(Author)
301 pages, 16 plates with colour photos and colour illustrations; 34 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
Why Sharks Matter is an informed and informative book on shark conservation that tackles misconceptions and explains conflicts between biologists and activists. Read our Q&A with David Shiffman.
Why Sharks Matter
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Average customer review
  • Why Sharks Matter ISBN: 9781421443645 Hardback Jul 2022 In stock
Price: £18.50
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

Read our interview with David Shiffman.

Get submerged in the amazing world of sharks! Your expert host, award-winning marine biologist Dr David Shiffman, will show you how – and why – we should protect these mysterious, misunderstood guardians of the ocean.

Sharks are some of the most fascinating, most ecologically important, most threatened, and most misunderstood animals on Earth. More often feared than revered, their role as predators of the deep have earned them a reputation as a major threat to humans. But the truth is that sharks are not a danger to us – they're in danger from us.

In Why Sharks Matter, marine conservation biologist Dr. David Shiffman explains why it's crucial that we overcome our misconceptions and rise above cinematic jump scares to embrace sharks as the imperilled, amazing, elegant, and critically important creatures they really are. Sharing his own fascinating experiences working with sharks, Shiffman tells us
- why healthy shark populations are a must for supporting ocean ecosystems – and the coastal economies that depend on them
- why we're in danger of losing many shark species forever
- what scientists, conservationists, and readers can do to help save these iconic predators
- why so much of what you've heard about sharks and how to save them is wrong

Exploring the core tenets of shark conservation science and policy, Shiffman synthesizes decades of scientific research and policymaking, weaving it into a narrative full of humour and adventure. Touching on everything from Shark Week to shark fin soup, overfishing to marine sanctuaries, Shiffman reveals why sharks are in trouble, why we should care, and how we can save them. Perfect for shark enthusiasts, Why Sharks Matter is an approachable, informative guide to the world of shark conservation and the passionate, fascinating, brilliant people who work to understand and protect our oceans. This fun read will have you looking at sharks with a fresh perspective and an understanding that the survival of sharks is crucial to the survival of another apex predator – ourselves.


Chapter 1. Shark basics, and fun facts to keep you reading
Chapter 2. Sharks are not a threat to humans
Chapter 3. The ecological significance of sharks
Chapter 4. What are the threats to sharks, and how threatened are they?
Chapter 5. How can we protect sharks?
Chapter 6. Target-Based Shark conservation and management policies
Chapter 7. Limit-based shark conservation and management policies
Chapter 8. What are scientists doing to help threatened sharks?
Chapter 9. What are environmentalists doing to help?
Chapter 10. How can you help sharks? (And what to consider NOT doing.)

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Informed and informative
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 12 Jun 2024 Written for Hardback

    When it comes to protecting animal species, you would think that conservation biologists, environmental advocates, and animal-loving members of the public are all on the same page. However, in Why Sharks Matter, marine biologist David Shiffman shows that this is not always the case. Though there are plenty of books marvelling at sharks, this, to my knowledge, is the first one to provide an informed and informative look at shark conservation. Frank, frequently opinionated, and full of refreshingly counterintuitive ideas, Why Sharks Matter is an eye-opener that delivered far more than I expected based on the title.

    Before diving in, it is worth mentioning what Shiffman reiterates in a footnote towards the end of the book: "There are arguments for protecting sharks that don't have their roots in science, and these aren't wrong, they're just not what I'm interested in and not what this book is about" (p. 217). He focuses on science-based conservation while ethics and morality are not explicit lodestars. He furthermore focuses on conservation (i.e. keeping populations healthy and preventing extinction) which is not the same as animal welfare (i.e. minimizing suffering and pain). The two aims sometimes coincide, but at other times do not. With the scope of the book thus clarified, Why Sharks Matter breaks down into roughly two parts, both of which relate to the notion that sharks are misunderstood predators.

    To start, three chapters deal with the scary reputation and actual ecological importance of sharks. Shiffman sets the stage with some basics on shark biology and ecology. This book actually complements Shark Biology and Conservation which Johns Hopkins published two years prior in 2020. Whereas that book focuses on shark biology first and conservation issues second, Shiffman takes the reverse approach. The whale shark in the room that he wishes he could avoid but has to tackle is, of course, the topic of shark attacks, though he prefers the term shark bites. He explains just how unlikely shark bites are, why the fear persists, and what are and are not sensible preventative measures. No, he would much rather tell you why we are better off with than without sharks in the water. Thus, he rounds out this section of the book by discussing the ecological importance of sharks.

    The heart of the book, however, is the next seven chapters that deal with conservation issues. This is where Shiffman really delivers the goods and he does so on three fronts.

    First, there is much about conservation biology that will no doubt strike the average reader, and even fellow biologists, as counterintuitive. For instance, the single biggest threat to sharks is overfishing, but that does not mean that there are no sustainable fisheries: some shark populations are neither historically overfished nor currently experiencing overfishing and are well-managed. This is a point made more generally in Ocean Recovery and is not a message welcomed by everyone. Furthermore, many conservation measures could work in theory, but are so poorly executed as to be ineffective or even harmful. With fishing comes bycatch, but measures to reduce bycatch of one species (e.g. dolphins) can increase bycatch of others (e.g. sharks and turtles). Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) sound great on paper and can work, but in reality are often not properly enforced for lack of resources or political will, have often not even been established in the right place to protect target species (!), and the recent trend of Very Large MPAs sees them being designated in areas where there was little fishing pressure to begin with. Probably the most counterintuitive section in the whole book is his opposition to bans on the trade in shark fins (which is not the same as the practice of shark finning; you can have one without the other). If you want to see a level-headed, factual discussion of an emotive, hot-button topic, pay close attention to this section. A host of other measures is discussed here, but the take-home message is that there are no silver bullets; the best we can often say is that some conservation solutions will work for some shark species in some places. Non-experts who claim otherwise by touting simple solutions are frequently unaware of the complexity of the full picture. This nicely leads into...

    Second, Shiffman's presentation is frank. He highlights the frequent disconnect and disagreements between scientists on the one hand, and activists and the public on the other. Though some non-profits focused on shark conservation do wonderful work, others ignore scientists, facts, and evidence, and "regularly say things that are obviously factually incorrect" (p. 221). Similarly, as someone active on social media, Shiffman frequently deals with harassment, insults, and even death threats for stating (uncomfortable) facts. He implores people repeatedly to have some humility and listen to experts: "Not to put too fine a point on it, but non-experts who've been thinking about the problem for five minutes are not especially likely to come up with a better solution to a conservation challenge than scientists who've had years of rigorous training" (p. 177). Next to giving his honest opinion and tackling pet peeves he also offers readers helpful advice. What are some examples of reliable non-profits, and how do you determine if a conservation organisation is worth your support? What can you personally do and what should you avoid doing?

    Third, but no less important, is Shiffman's attention to the human dimension. For instance, managing wildlife frequently means managing people. This, in turn, requires input from social science disciplines, which is still often neglected. Wildlife conservation policies are far more likely to succeed if they have community support, which means involving and consulting those people who have to bear their costs. Next, most scientists oppose activist calls for blanket fishing bans, reminding them that fishing is a matter of food security for many. Activists in wealthy nations pressuring governments of developing nations "reeks of colonialism and privilege" (p. 229). Finally, he calls out the problem of representation, racism, and sexism in his discipline, as well as some of the initiatives to address these.

    Overall, Why Sharks Matter is an eye-opener that will undoubtedly challenge some of your preconceived notions. I can see how the above-mentioned focus on evidence-based conservation will rub some people the wrong way, and some will disagree with his conclusions on ethical or moral grounds. Having said that, if you want to understand the logic and inner workings of conservation biology, you owe it to yourself to read this. In a world that is awash with books on sharks, Why Sharks Matter genuinely stands out.
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David Shiffman (Silver Spring, MD) is a marine conservation biologist at Arizona State University. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, National Geographic, and Scientific American, and he writes a monthly column in Scuba Diving Magazine. He can be found on Twitter where he's always happy to answer questions about sharks.

By: David Shiffman(Author)
301 pages, 16 plates with colour photos and colour illustrations; 34 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
Why Sharks Matter is an informed and informative book on shark conservation that tackles misconceptions and explains conflicts between biologists and activists. Read our Q&A with David Shiffman.
Media reviews

"Shiffman says he wants 'to teach you why sharks are remarkable and awe-inspiring animals, why we're better off with sharks than we are without them, and what you can do to help protect the alarming and increasing number of sharks of conservation concern.' He succeeds on all counts."
San Francisco Chronicle

"The argument of Shiffman's book is that we should do a better job of protecting sharks, and his method is to dip analysis and policy recommendations in a sugar coating of cool facts. For Shiffman, our inability to conceptualize relative risk is both an ecological and aesthetic tragedy, undermining conservation efforts while preventing us from exulting in the glory of sharks – with their dermal denticles, their total lack of bones and their ability to hear an injured fish from a mile away."
– Molly Young, New York Times

"Whether this book makes you pause and reflect on your perception of sharks, or teaches you some new facts about these predators, Shiffman hopes he has shed light on human side of shark conservation through this work."

"[Shiffman] delivers the book he was born to write."
The Revelator

"Join award-winning marine biologist Dr. David Shiffman in an approachable, humorous and adventure-packed narrative about sharks – the mysterious guardians of the ocean. You'll learn why we should overcome our misconceptions regarding these creatures, delve deep into Shiffman's own experiences with sharks, and explore decades of scientific research and policymaking related to shark conservation."
Scuba Diving

"Providing a wealth of information about a vitally important group of animals, this topical and accessible book will attract a broad audience."
– Jeffrey C. Carrier, Albion College, author of Sharks of the Shallows: Coastal Species in Florida and the Bahamas

"David Shiffman shines in this enjoyable, illuminating, and important book. One of David's strengths is communicating with generosity, accuracy, insight, wit, and heart, and here he has succeeded in producing a book that presents sound principles of shark science and conservation (and more) and, at the same time, is highly readable."
– Daniel C. Abel, Coastal Carolina University, author of Shark Biology and Conservation: Essentials for Educators, Students, and Enthusiasts

"Why Sharks Matter is a smart, engaging, and persuasive book that is perfect for readers who have a serious interest in marine conservation. With one third of all sharks and rays currently facing extinction due to overfishing, this timely volume is poised to make a positive and authentic impact."
– Robert W. Shumaker, Indianapolis Zoo, editor of Saving Endangered Species: Lessons in Wildlife Conservation from Indianapolis Prize Winners

"Follow David Shiffman's humorous and educational journey into the underwater world of sharks. A dedicated scientist and a masterful storyteller, he advocates for the conservation of these misunderstood predators at the same time as he dispels many longstanding shark myths."
– Hanne Strager, The Whale, Norway, author of A Modest Genius: The Story of Darwin's Life and how His Ideas Changed Everything

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