Sharks are the ideal predators of the ocean. They have existed since the dinosaurs and have adapted to life in the ocean over millions of years. In today's world, public opinion on sharks sadly originates from movies such as Jaws and news reports about shark attacks. The popular Shark Week on Discovery Channel does help with public opinion on sharks, but many still see them as only problems that need to be fixed. There is an extreme lack of data on sharks which is surprising given the span of time that humans have interacted with the ocean.
Sharks are apex predators in the ocean. Every aspect of their physiology is made to hunt in the ocean. The shark’s sense of smell can smell a drop of blood miles away. Their sensory organs allow them to feel the electric fields given off by fish. Their rows of teeth are designed to process their meals easily. Sharks are so hardy, that some have been found with suits of armor from the Middle Ages in their stomachs! There are a few select animals that go after sharks, but sharks main predators are currently humans. The illegal shark finning industry takes a toll of about 100 million sharks every year. The United States has outlawed shark finning since 2010 but that has not stopped the global practice.
Sharks in their natural environments maintain a balance in the ecosystems. Their prey across the ocean varies and there are roughly over 500 various species of sharks. Within each ecosystem, the shark’s various diets maintain a balance in the chain of predator and prey. A study that started in the early 1980s off the North Carolina coast, showed that a drop in sharks led to more stingrays in the area. The stingrays would migrate at certain points during the year and be very close to shore. A stingray's diet consists primarily of shellfish. Without the shark's presence, local fisheries that farmed shellfish had a severely depleted supply. This is just an example, and the impact across the oceans is varied and vast.
Sharks are a valuable part of the ocean's environment and should be more actively preserved. The ocean provides us with food, leisure, and relaxation, but is still a living ecosystem. Compared to the huge amount of sharks killed yearly by finning, there were only 89 shark attacks globally in 2016. Sharks are among the many other misunderstood animals and plants in our world. But with increasing education and public organization, there will be changes for the better. 'Til next type – M.
Written by Michael Dour