10 Reasons to Love Sharks (You Heard Right!)
Published on August 03, 2012
Cue the Jaws soundtrack . . . It’s that time of the summer again: Shark Week!
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Discovery Channel sharkathon, which premieres on Sunday.
Although it’s true that terror typically sets in when most people think of sharks, there’s actually a lot to love about the aquatic creatures.
Vetstreet talked to University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science shark expert David Shiffman about the many reasons why sharks are awesome — some of which may surprise you.
Do You Like Variety?
Everyone thinks of the great white shark first, but there are almost 400 species of sharks that come in all shapes, sizes and even colors — like the pink goblin shark. They also live in a wide variety of habitats, including beneath the ice of the Arctic.
Are You Impressed By Big Animals?
Then you should love the whale shark, which is the largest fish on earth. (Yes, sharks are fish.) The whale shark is as big as a school bus, yet it’s probably one of the least scary members of the shark family because it eats only microscopic plankton.
Do You Appreciate a Beautiful Coral Reef?
These top predators keep such ocean ecosystems in balance. According to Shiffman, if sharks disappeared, “it [would] throw the whole food chain out of balance.”
Scientists believe that fewer sharks on a reef results in an uptick of grouper populations, which sharks would otherwise eat. And more grouper means fewer parrotfish, and since they eat algae, “fewer parrotfish means too much algae, which can kill the coral, which is a unique habitat for thousands of species.”
Do You Value Hard Work?
Sharks have amazing adaptations for hunting, such as their sense of smell. “It’s not true that they can smell a drop of blood a mile away, because that’s not how smell works,” Shiffman says. “But they can smell very low concentrations of blood and stress hormones.”
They can even tell the direction of a scent because they basically smell in stereo. The difference in time that a scent arrives at each nostril tells them where to go to follow prey.
Do You Hate Going to the Dentist?
Then you should be jealous of sharks. When you’re a top predator, your teeth are your most important tool, so sharks make sure that they never run out. If a tooth falls out, it’s not an issue because sharks have rows of replacement teeth.
And it was recently discovered that the surface of shark teeth is 100 percent fluoride — the same ingredient that’s added to toothpaste to make your own teeth strong.
Do You Practice Yoga?
Then you’ll admire the amazing flexibility of sharks, due to the fact that they have no bones. Shark skeletons are made of cartilage, the same material that makes up your nose and ears. “Many species of shark are flexible enough that, if you grab their tails, they will be able to turn around and bite your hand,” Shiffman says.
Are You Always on the Go?
The same goes for sharks — most species never stop swimming. “They need to move forward to force water through their gills,” Shiffman says. Fish extract oxygen from the water through their gills, so if sharks stop swimming, they can’t breathe.
Sharks also need to move to avoid sinking because they lack swim bladders, which make other fish buoyant.
Are You Amazed By What Mothers Can Do?
“There’s amazing diversity in relation to where baby sharks come from,” Shiffman says. Some species lay eggs, some give birth to live young and, for some, it’s a combination of the two — the eggs fertilize, develop and hatch inside the female.
If need be, the female can even have babies without help from a male, as scientists discovered when a lone hammerhead shark gave birth at an aquarium in 2001.
Do You Have a Soft Spot for Endangered Animals?
Humans kill millions of these creatures each year. It’s estimated that 26 million to 73 million of them are victims of the shark fin trade. And contrary to what some people believe, the fins do not grow back.
Are You Afraid of Dangerous Animals?
Then you should love sharks! Humans have only a 1 in 3.8 million chance of being killed by a shark — you’re more than 25 times more likely to be taken down by a cow!
“Many people think sharks are mindless killing machines that will attack any human they see,” Shiffman says, noting that most sharks actually mind their own business. “Any time that you go to the beach, there are sharks nearby, but they don’t bother you.” To prove this, he would catch small sharks with his hands to show to fellow beachgoers.
You may be thinking to yourself right now, “Remind me not to go to the shore with David Shiffman.” His reply: “You should be terrified” about going to the beach because your chances of dying in a car accident on the way are much higher than the chances of even seeing a shark.
Linda Lombardi is a former zookeeper, college professor and the author of Animals Behaving Badly, a book that grew from her blog of the same name.