Everyone has their assumptions about sharks, scary creatures of the deep blue. Monsters of the earth. Portrayed negatively across the world and across social media. No more. We have the truth, if you want to know what’s really going on in the deep blue sea, read on…
Sharks have lived in our oceans for over 400 million years, they were here even before the dinosaurs existed. How incredible is that?
In our world there are over 500 different species of shark, all unique and amazing in their own ways. You can find them in almost every marine ecosystem on earth, including freshwater. Not to mention new species are discovered every year.
Like rays and skates, sharks fall into a subclass of fish called elasmobranchii. Species in this subclass have skeletons made from cartilage, not bone, and have five to seven gill slits on each side of their heads (most other fish have only one gill slit on each side), which they use to filter oxygen from the water.
Whale sharks, the largest fish species on Earth, can grow to more than 55 feet, while dwarf lantern sharks reach a mere eight inches.
Formidable predators, sharks have mouths lined with multiple rows of individual teeth that fall out and grow back on a routine basis. Their teeth come in all sizes and shapes, from serrated like a razor to triangular like a spear.
Sharks are found in deep and shallow waters throughout the world’s oceans, with some migrating vast distances to breed and feed. Some species are solitary, while others hang out in groups to varying degrees. Lemon sharks, for example, have been found to congregate in groups to socialize.
Scientists are still trying to figure out how long sharks live and have only studied the ages of a fraction of shark species. Most notable is the Greenland shark, Earth’s longest-lived vertebrate at 272 years.
Most sharks eat smaller fish and invertebrates, but some of the larger species prey on seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals.
The real issue
People aren’t on a shark’s menu. Even though shark attacks have increased at a steady rate since 1900—a result of better recording of attacks and a rising human population—they are still exceedingly rare: A beachgoer has only a one in 11.5 million chance of being bitten.
Sharks bite people out of curiosity, to defend themselves from a perceived threat, or because they confuse a human with prey.
Sharks may not be a significant threat to us, but we are to them. Humans are responsible for drastic declines in shark populations.
Overfishing is the biggest threat to sharks. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year, mostly to supply demand for an expensive Chinese dish called shark fin soup. Some fisheries allow the catch of whole sharks, like any other fish, while others have outright banned shark fishing. Sometimes fishermen cut the fins off live sharks and dump the animals, finless, back into the ocean, where they’ll drown or bleed out. This practice is called shark finning, and it’s done to save space on the boat (the fins are the most valuable part of a shark) and to avoid surpassing fishing quotas.
Sharks are sought for fins, meat, leather, liver oil and cartilage, with the demand for shark meat as concerning as the more publicized pursuit of their fins. According to FAO statistics, the average declared value of global shark fin imports from 2000 to 2011 was nearly US$378 million per year. Shark meat is more likely to be consumed locally, but the average declared value of shark meat products in the same time frame was still nearly US$240 million a year.
Rising water temperatures and coastal development are also contributing to shrinking populations by destroying the mangroves and coral reefs that sharks use for breeding, hunting, and protecting young shark pups.
A drop in numbers is bad news for sharks but also for ocean health in general: As top predators of the ocean, sharks are critical for ensuring a balanced food web.
Most sharks are captured by illegal fishing boats. They have their fins hacked off from their bodies and are thrown back overboard to die.
We are the enemy, not them…
These sharks NEED our help. This will never stop unless we all get together and raise awareness. Tell you friends, family, anyone who will listen. Spread the word and don’t let these remarkable creatures be ignored and left to die alone. If you want to find out more or you want to donate money to help protect them, you can find several animal charities already taking action, such as the WWF. Thank you for reading, and I hope we have opened up your eyes to the truth about sharks.
Written by Erin O’Farrell