We’ve all heard it a million times in movies, tv-shows, and other types of media: sharks have an underwater sense of smell so powerful that they can smell fear.

One whiff your nerves and a shark will savagely swim towards you to devour you whole.

Is this true?

Can Sharks Smell Fear?

No. Sharks can not actually smell fear. While sharks have a potent sense of smell and are capable of detecting prey in the water from truly impressive distances, they can’t “smell” fear in any conventional sense of the word.

Should You Be Afraid Of Sharks Smelling Your Fear?

Sharks are one of the most feared creatures of the sea. They are also one of the most misunderstood due to years and years of popular culture painting them as ravenous apex predators with a penchant for hunting human flesh, but this could not be further from the truth.

According to the world’s only scientifically documented comprehensive database of confirmed shark attacks, which has been compiling information on deadly shark attacks since 1837, you are far more likely to die from a dog’s bite than from a shark’s.

To put that into perspective, I want you to think about the fact that vending machines are far more likely to cause injury or death to a human than a shark attack.

You should be cautious, not afraid of sharks

So, Why Should We Fear Sharks?

There are over 400 different species of sharks spread across the world’s 7 seas and 5 oceans, and not all of the animals have the same ability to smell.

While it is true that some species have the sensory ability to smell blood from dozens of feet away, it is a myth that sharks can smell a singular drop of blood from hundreds of feet away.

Scents travel far slower in water than they do in the air and, as such, a shark would have to intercept a water current carrying particles of blood to be able to detect it.

Even then, the shark would have to triangulate which way the blood is coming from and travel back to its source. You’re likely to be out of the water by the time that happens.

As far as a shark being able to smell your fear, it is even less likely.

Fear is an emotion, not a detectable scent. While the human body does undergo a set of physiological changes when a person experiences fear, such as a faster heart rate, increased sweating, etc., a shark’s sense of smell is just as unlikely to detect these tiny changes as it is to detect blood from miles away.

The bottom line is there is no need to have an irrational fear of unprovoked sharks, they’re not the mindless killers that popular culture has made them out to be.

Great white shark breaching the water

Sharks Should Be Afraid Of Us

Sharks have much more to fear from humans than humans have to fear from sharks. By most estimates, humans are directly responsible for the death of more than 100,000,000 sharks every single year. 

This hard-to-imagine number is due mostly to a morally bankrupt black market for shark fin soup. Millions of sharks are caught, have their fins removed, and thrown back into the ocean, still alive, to drown and die painful deaths.

With thousands of sharks killed every hour of every day, it is easy to see that sharks have far more to be afraid of us than we do of them.

Thankfully, there are plenty of environmental and animal rights organizations actively fighting this horrendous practice. As a result, the market for shark fin soup has started to shrink all over the world. Hopefully, there will come a day soon when sharks have nothing to fear from people.