Shark. The word may send shivers down your spine. But it shouldn’t! Sharks help maintain a healthy and well balanced ocean. However, we are removing them at an alarming rate. From shark finning to entanglement, sharks should be more afraid of US!
So, what are sharks?
Sharks belong to a large family of cartilaginous fishes. Their scientific class is chondrichthyes (pronounced kon-drick-these) and includes one of the largest fish on Earth, the whale shark! Sharks have evolved a variety of fantastic and sometimes, otherworldly, adaptations to make them amazing hunters.
By far one of their coolest and most sophisticated adaptations in electroreception. Covering the shark’s bodies are small pores filled with a mucus that allows them to sense electric signals! The largest concentration of these pores, called ampullae (am-pewl-lay) of Lorenzini, are around the shark’s mouth and help the find prey, even buried in the sand. You could say that sharks are amazing at hide and seek!
Especially the hammerhead sharks. This large specie of shark has a weird and distinct hammer shaped head. The shape increases the amount of ampullae and enables them to find their favorite snack-- rays hidden in the sand!
Sharks are apex predators; important to coral reefs and in some areas, ecotourism. However, sharks are severely at risk of overfishing and entanglement, plastic pollution and finning.
Photo Credit: © Jeff Rotman/jeffrotman.com
Shark on the menu?
Sharks are consumed in different forms globally. From fin soup to herbal powders and even as a meat protein. Recently, blacktip shark filets have been available at a large grocery store chain called Publix (a southeast American grocery store). Many cultures harvest shark fins for soup, the rest of the shark is wastefully discarded. Longlining for tuna and other big gamefish is dangerous for sharks as well. Sharks are often ensnared in longlines.
Did you know?
Sharks drown if they can’t move water over their gills, and they can’t swim if they are tangled in fishing line or are thrown back into the ocean after having their fins removed.
A Plastic Problem.
Plastic pollution is another larger and poorly understood epidemic in the oceans. Tiger sharks seem to be extremely susceptible as they will eat anything in their path. Typically, they have been seen feeding on stingrays, fish, and seals. But one tiger shark was found with a license plate in its stomach! (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/t/tiger-shark/)
Plastic breaks down smaller and smaller until it can be ingested by zooplankton (small microscopic animals in the water column). How does that affect sharks you may ask? Well think food chain! Smaller fish and then larger fish and then all the way up to sharks, that plastic is never digested and is basically passed along the digestion tracts of animals, a process called bioaccumulation. Sharks, at the top of their food chain, are filled with micro plastics. We still aren’t sure of the effects. But one thing is for sure, it certainly isn’t good to have a belly full of plastic debris.
After learning a little bit more about sharks and how critical they are to our underwater world, we hope you will learn to love them as much as we do at PlanetLoveLife. The more you learn about sharks, the sooner the fearful shiver will turn to a shiver of joy!
“You should be afraid if you are in the ocean and you don’t see sharks!” -Sylvia Earle
What can you do?
- You can be a shark advocate and help people understand that sharks are JAWSOME and need our protection.
- You can reach out to grocery stores that offer shark meat and tell them to remove it.
- You can reduce your plastic consumption (skip the straw, plastic bags, plastic bottles, and anything single use).
- Get involved and participate in cleanups!
- Donate to FINTASTIC organizations that teach shark education and conservation, like our partners: Sharks4kids and Conversation Ocean.