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Shark Awareness Day - Some Fantastic Facts About Sharks

Jul 14, 2021 09:15AM ● By Anand Subramanian

Figure 1 - Shark in Natural Habitat. Source - Google

When people think about sharks, they instantly think of the film Jaws, which typically sends shivers up their spine. They are unaware that sharks have been swimming in the world's waters for 400 million years - 100 million years before the first dinosaurs arrived on land.  More than 500 species of sharks have existed in the ocean, serving as the top predator and balancing the ecosystem. Sharks, however, have succumbed to the man-hungry caricature that society has established for them. Humans kill around 100 million sharks worldwide each year, with tens of millions killed for their fins, which are one of the world's most expensive seafood products. When inadvertently trapped in a fishnet, some people's reaction is to injure or kill them, even though people are more likely to get killed by a lightning strike or a dog bite than by a shark attack. Since the beginning of large-scale fishing, these operations have reduced many shark populations by 95 percent. On Shark Awareness Day, let’s reflect on some of the facts about these magnificent creatures, the consequences of overfishing, and the works of some Black marine biologists. It's time to embrace the fact that there is more to sharks than we know.

Shark embryos are known to kill one another throughout their early growth period. The biggest embryo in a shark litter is known to devour the other embryos in a behavior known as intrauterine cannibalism, which is most common in sand sharks. Sand sharks produce larger offspring at birth than other shark species, which keeps them safe from other predators. Sharks are exceptionally capable carnivores in the ocean environment, with six highly developed senses, including smell, hearing, touch, taste, sight, electromagnetism, and a streamlined, torpedo-shaped body. Unlike other fishes, they have a flexible cartilage skeleton that is rarely retained in the same manner that traditional fish bones are. Although classified as vertebrates, they lack bones and have cartilage skeletons, making them cartilaginous fish. As apex predators, they prey on the creatures below them in the food web, assisting in the regulation and maintenance of the marine ecosystem's equilibrium. They directly impact their prey population, which impacts the prey species of those animals. Because of their diverse diet, they may swap prey species when particular populations are depleted, allowing the species to survive while controlling the spatial distribution of potential prey through intimidation. Fear of sharks drives certain species to change their habitat usage and activity level, resulting in changes in abundance in the lower tropical levels. This entire process makes sure the ocean community stays organized and intact. Even though all sharks are large and powerful, hammerhead sharks are the most powerful ones. The hammerhead shark's head possesses 3000 ampullar pores that take up electrical fields in the ocean, assisting it in tracking down stingrays, which are concealed under the sand. Because of the form of their heads, they have binocular vision and can view 360 degrees. When the eyes are somewhat forward, their fields of vision overlap significantly.

Figure 2 - Hammerhead Shark. Source - Google

Fear of sharks among sailors in the 1940s led to the development of shark repellants known as "Shark Chaser," which was used for 30 years before being considered ineffective. Because of a 20-fold increase in relative fishing pressure since the 1970s, the worldwide quantity of marine sharks has decreased by 75%. Due to this depletion, the global extinction risk has grown to the point that three-quarters of the species in this functionally important assemblage are threatened with extinction. A dinner of shark fin soup has long been seen as a prestige symbol in China, a practice that originated with Chinese emperors, but has lately expanded to middle-class wedding tables and banquets. After all this chaos, in recent times we can find a glimpse of hope as humans have had more interaction with sharks as a result of social, cultural, and scientific development. Biologists, collectors, fishermen, surfers, divers, environmentalists, aquarists, and filmmakers are just a few of the individuals who have acquired a deep understanding of sharks and a manner of discussing and thinking about them. Marine biologist Carlee Jackson along with 3 female biologists co-created the MISS (Minorities in Shark Science) organization to increase diversity in shark science and encourage more women of color to get into shark science. A graduate from Nova Southeastern University in marine science, Carlee bridged the gap between the field of marine biology and minority girls, providing opportunities and resources for passionate women and balancing the racial and gender asymmetry. MISS currently has 200 members from 19 countries, as well as 31 states and territories.

Figure 3 - Shark and Human Relationships. Source - Google

It is critical to protect sharks and enable their populations to rebuild to restore the health of our seas. Improved shark management, stringent species-specific fishing quotas, stock assessment, and lowering demand for shark fin soup among the top and middle classes are just a few of the numerous ways we can protect the ocean's most vital predators. A shark-free ocean will eventually result in an algae-dominated coral system, a declining seagrass bed, and a decrease of variety and abundance among species, finally leading to extinction. The only time we humans need to be concerned is when we are present in a shark-free ocean.

Figure 4 - Shark fin soup. Source - Flickr


 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

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