Thankful for Sharks
This year’s Thanksgiving holiday has passed, but there is no better time to remain grateful for our planet, wildlife, and the ocean! Specifically, let’s talk SHARKS! There are a lot of reasons to be grateful for sharks, but let’s dive into just a few for now.
Biodiversity at its Finest, Sharks at Their Oldest
Photo Source: Seafood Source
All around the world, there are habitats and biomes with an immense amount of biodiversity. The Oxford English Dictionary defines biodiversity as the variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem. The ocean is one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world. Marine Biology Conservation Society states that “...there are at least 226,408 marine species but there are most likely at least 750,000 marine species (50% of 1.5 million species) and possibly as many as 25 million marine species (50% of 50 million species).” It is challenging to know how many species are in the world’s oceans because about 90% of the ocean is currently unexplored by scientists. Sharks make up a HUGE contribution to ocean biodiversity. There are more than 500 species of sharks in the ocean! It is so important to recognize the value of biodiversity and the collection of different species that make up a large habitat such as the ocean. Within the ocean, there are also countless micro-habitats that sharks belong to, contributing to their diversity.
Additionally, we can recognize how awe-inspiring it is that sharks have been around for 450 million years. Sharks are so well adapted to their lifestyle and habitat that they have been able to thrive for an incredible amount of time.
Give the People What They Want!
Another reason to show gratitude for sharks is their contribution to eco-tourism. It is no surprise that sharks have a huge following, and many people want to learn more about them, see them, or even interact with them in their homes.
Photo Source: Shark Business
Around the world, sharks have boosted and benefitted a plethora of economies. In Florida, over one year, an estimated $220 million was spent on shark-related tourism. In that same year, there were over 3,700 jobs associated with shark-related tourism and activities (Oceana). Sharks are one of the most popular drivers for scuba diving courses, excursions, and adventures.
After extensive studies and economic data breakdowns, it has been proven that sharks are worth more to the economy alive and well than hunted for their fins and meat. To read more about the value of sharks, check out Oceana’s article by Andy Sharpless here.
Athletic, Stunning, Inspirational
Sharks are a perfect example of inspiring people in a variety of ways. This inspiration helps lead the marine biology field, marine education, non-profit organizations, careers in scuba diving, and many more!
In addition to inspiring people of all ages, sharks have inspired athletic clothing design through biomimicry. The dictionary definition of biomimicry is the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes. Specifically, in 2008, Michael Phelps wore a swimsuit that was modeled after sharkskin in the summer Olympics (Aaliyah Gibson, the Active Times). This design was meant to be modeled into many swim trunks because it mirrors or encourages swimmers’ agility like sharks’ agility in the water.
Kings, Queens, Leaders of the Ocean
Photo Source: Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach
As apex predators, sharks are often at the top of their ecosystem’s food chain. With how diverse of a predatory group they are, they hunt a wide variety of prey! There are some sharks, like the lantern shark, that will feed on krill, smaller bony fish, squid, and shrimp. On the other hand, some sharks will hunt prey as large as sea lions! This diversity of prey helps maintain prey availability and overall ocean health.
Although sharks are highly adapted apex predators, they are still advantageous. Oftentimes, sharks will hunt the most energetically efficient prey, when it comes to the level of difficulty in the hunt. This means that they are often hunting the sick or the weak of that specific prey population. Naturally, this benefits the health of that food chain by encouraging genes from stronger and healthier fish to be passed on to the population.
Shark Guardians Lend A Helping Fin
Photo Source: Oceana
Besides the direct benefit from sharks and their existence, there are indirect ways sharks have helped humans, too. We just learned that they eat a variety of prey, and this is how they help us in more ways than one! Certain sharks feed on predatory rays such as the cow-nose ray. When left “unchecked,” the cow-nose ray has previously devastated the shellfish industry by consuming all of the bay scallops (The Active Times). This was a harsh awakening for the restaurant seafood industry when scallop populations saw a sharp decline when sharks were overfished and thus absent in the food chain.
Additionally, some sharks also hunt and feed on box jellyfish. Although shark attacks are dramatized and exaggerated in the media, box jellies actually kill more humans annually than sharks do! Box jellyfish are part of ocean ecosystems and do contribute to biodiversity. However, sharks help control their population and keep it in balance by hunting them. This helps humans since they pose a large threat in some communities and parts of the world.
Thankful for Sharks
It is clear from research, education, and extensive data collection that many food chains and ecosystems within the ocean would fall apart or cease to exist without sharks. As ocean enthusiasts, it is in our best interests to spread awareness for shark conservation. When we help save sharks, we are helping save the ocean! Hopefully, you’ve learned something new and have even more appreciation for sharks and the ocean.
Respect the Fin blog post inspired by the Active Times “Reasons We Need Sharks.”
Written By: Bailey Higa