Sharks and Survival: Three misconceptions about sharks; one striking reality

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Photo courtesy of Alan Egan

With Shark Week 2016 now in full force, many people have jumped in on the excitement, watching Discovery Channel and posting photos of nurse sharks from their recent snorkel or dive trip. Perhaps it is the mystique of the shark that keeps many viewers coming back for more as they admire the creatures from afar.

From eight inches to 40 feet long, around 400 species of sharks live in our world ocean. Only about a dozen are considered particularly dangerous, according to National Geographic.

Unfortunately, sharks get a bad rap based off beliefs people have formed from popular culture and a lack of understanding, while growing environmental threats continue to put sharks in danger.

As a sea turtle hospital dedicated to ocean conservation, Loggerhead Marinelife Center is dedicated to raising awareness about protecting the creatures that play an important role in our ocean ecosystems. So, we’ve put together a list of three false notions about sharks – and the few simple steps YOU can take to help protect these creatures of the deep.

Three false notions about sharks

1. Sharks are bloodthirsty predators

The notion that sharks are cold-hearted killers is misguided. Like any animal, sharks prey on various organisms – like sea lions, fish and sometimes other sharks – to survive. However, not all sharks eat large mammals or fish. Some – like the 40-foot whale shark – are filter feeders, preying on tiny plankton and krill. Often, SCUBA divers will swim alongside these gentle giants!

2. Sharks are attracted to human blood

Although sharks have poor eyesight, their sense of smell is amazing! The sensing organ of a shark, called the ampullae of Lorenzini, can detect electric fields produced by living things. They can also detect blood in the water from miles away. Contrary to popular belief, however, sharks are not attracted to human blood. A shark is more likely to be attracted to a bleeding fish or sea lion than a human being with a cut in the ocean.

3. Sharks have no threats

Unfortunately, human beings are the shark’s biggest threat. According to Discovery, an estimated 73 million sharks are caught and killed every year for their fins to be used in culinary dishes like shark fin soup. Although the shark fin trade is banned in U.S. waters, many countries still conduct the act. The shark is caught, and while it is still conscious, fishermen remove the fins and discard the shark into the water, where it will sink toward the ocean floor and bleed to death or suffocate.

Saving Sharks

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species contains more than 400 shark species that the organization has assessed. Sadly, more than a quarter of the species assessed are ranked at “near-threatened”. Meanwhile, 63 of those species fall into the “vulnerable” and “endangered” categories. Although it may not seem like it, sharks play an important role in the ocean, especially in food webs. According to Shark Savers, “predatory sharks prey on the sick and weak members of their prey populations.” By eating unhealthy fish and other organisms, these populations have a better chance of survival. However, like any other large fish, sharks are threatened by “biomagnification.” In this process, deadly toxins and other chemicals move up the food chain. Because the concentration of the chemicals increases each time, these toxic substances put sharks at higher risk of declining in population. Other environmental threats to sharks include overfishing and the degradation of inshore habitats that are prime nursery grounds for shark pups. Because sharks take between 15-20 years to mature and can only bear one shark pup at a time, it is difficult for a declining shark species to bounce back quickly. This, coupled with a variety of other threats to the environment, makes the shark’s ability to survive in the wild more difficult than it may appear.

So, how can you help?

  • Sign Humane Society’s No Shark Fin Pledge to stop the unsustainable shark fin trade
  • Recycle plastic, glass and paper and dispose of hazardous material properly – the oceans will thank you!
  • Be a smart seafood consumer
  • Support shark and ocean conservation by sharing this blog post on social media!