An informative piece about sharks.
There are around 500 different species of shark living in the oceans today. They vary in size, although the Whale Shark tops the tables and is the largest fish on the planet. Sharks have skeletons which are made of cartilage and breathe through several gills located on either side of their bodies. Their skin is made up of scales and, unlike humans, every time one of their many teeth falls out, another one grows to take its place!
Sharks reach reproductive age when they are between 12 and 15 years old and only give birth to one or two babies – or “pups” at a time. The pups are born with their own sharp teeth and unlike many mammals, need little time to start fending for themselves.
Most sharks are saltwater fish although there are a few exceptions, such as the Bull Shark who can also survive in freshwater environments. If not hunted, they can live for a long time – twenty or thirty years for most species although the Whale Shark may live for up to one hundred years – longer than the average human being! Sharks also predate us humans by around 400 million years.
Despite this, sharks are very much threatened by human beings today who kill around one hundred million of them a year for their fins, teeth, skin or oils. It is believed that this ongoing depletion of the shark population will have a drastic effect on marine ecosystems where sharks are the top of the food chain and consequently help to maintain marine life which in turn helps to maintain life on planet Earth. There are various organizations such as “Sea Shepherd” who work to prevent the slaughter of sharks and the destruction of their habitats in order to safeguard the biodiversity of ocean ecosystems.
Contrary to the popular belief fuelled by movies such as “Jaws”, most species of shark are not dangerous to humans and will not attack unprovoked. They usually feed on other fish or marine mammals and human meat is not typically on their menu. There have been cases however where sharks attack a human because they mistake it for prey, or they don’t know what it is and so bite it to try and find out. Naturally these instances are not nice for the human even if the shark did not really mean to be vicious!
Unfortunately the media portrays sharks as being a great enemy of the homo sapien and a shark attack is always highly documented, although in reality only around 75 attacks are reported a year and only a small percentage of these are fatal. To put this in to perspective, more people die worldwide per year being struck by lightning – something which most of us believe to be so rare, we use it as a stereotypical comparison for something which we believe isn’t going to happen.
I recently spent time in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt holidaying with my Dad. This area of the Red Sea is well known for its diverse marine life and clear waters and most tourists can’t wait to go snorkelling or diving to view the stunning reefs and the exotic fish and other marine animals which inhabit the area which is also renowned for sharks – to the extent that when you go on a diving or snorkelling trip, you are required to sign a waiver acknowledging that you may be eaten by one and won’t sue the company if it happens!!
Actually I was quite excited by the prospect of seeing one – unfortunately I didn’t – however, I did get to see a moon jellyfish, right there in the water with me, gliding through the blue alongside the reef – and that’s a true story!