Sharks: Friend or Foe?

*Jaws theme song plays in the distance*

Sharks. The ocean’s top apex predator. Opportunistic hunters that overcome their prey with blinding speed and strength.

How can the seemingly most frightening creatures help humans and how are they at risk?

Most species of sharks are easily at the top tier of nearly all marine food chains, meaning they feed on many kinds of fish, seals, turtles, whales, and many other organisms. The instinctual thought for many people is “Well, if there are no more sharks then people will be safe from attacks and the animals they eat will thrive and grow in population, right?” Yes, and no.

I will start by addressing the first part of that assumption.

Sharks are curious creatures by nature. They are attracted to objects that reflect light and movements. They have electroreceptor pores in their snouts called Ampullae of Lorenzini. These pores sense the electrical fields of objects in their environment; a very powerful hunting tool. When they see or sense something they wish to investigate they use their snout to first bump it, then bite it.

It seems worse than it is. Biting is just a sharks way to distinguishing if something is food or not. Often times, when a shark bites into something that is not food, they immediately let go, and for this reason most shark “attacks” are not fatal. Humans, in comparison to seals (the primary food source of bigger shark species) are bony, lacking the layer of blubber seals posses, as well as having blood that smells and tastes much too bitter to entice a shark. Yes, people have tragically died as result of a shark inflicted wound, however, these cases a fewer in number than the media portrays, and are a result of blood loss when a artery is severed. Furthermore, the number of people that have died as a result of a shark compared the number of sharks that are killed by humans is 10 human deaths a year to 11,417 shark deaths AN HOUR as a result of the highly lucrative black market practice of Finning (which i will discuss in a different post). That being said, this leads me to the second part of the question.

Say all the sharks in the world disappeared tomorrow. You probably wouldn’t notice the effects for a few weeks, maybe a few months but surly in a years time the world would be completely different.

Without sharks, the populations of seals, whales, smaller fish species would increase dramatically, in an insuppressible explosion. This might make fishermen happy; less competition for fish means more money for them. However, with the increase populations of seals and fish species as well as some whales, there will be more mouths to fill with fish. With population booms uncheck by sharks, the populations of fish would actually decrease more so than is already being seen as a result of overfishing. Ultimately there would just different creatures at the top of the food chain, but the overall effect would be no different, or potentially worse than if sharks are large and in-charge of the oceanic circle of life.

Ultimately sharks are necessary part of the natural order of life in the ocean. While they may seem like vicious predators that need to be eliminated from this planet, i hope you now understand why they are not as dangerous as they seem and why we need them to keep swimming in Earth’s seas.

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