What Are Sharks & Where Do Sharks Live?
Do you know all there is to know about sharks? There are more than 500 different shark species, with the earliest known shark dating back more than 400 million years ago! These fish (no, they’re not mammals!) live between 20 and 150 years and range in size from eight inches up to 65 feet; they can weigh as much as 11 tons. You’ll find sharks anywhere from shallow, coastal regions to deep and cold arctic waters. Sharks also can be spotted among coral reefs.
Often referred to as a “keystone species,” sharks are apex predators that play a critical role in maintaining the delicate balance of our ecosystems. This is just one reason why it’s so important that we protect these finned creatures!
3 Great Reasons Why Sharks Matter
Sharks are threatened by the effects of climate change, pollution, and human activity (particularly overfishing). Thirty-two percent of all sharks are threatened, 6 percent are endangered, 26 percent are vulnerable, and 24 percent are near threatened.
With our busy day to day lives, shark preservation is probably not at the forefront of your mind. However, sharks are an integral part of a larger ecosystem and the food chain. What would happen if sharks went extinct? Humans would struggle to survive for these three reasons.
Sharks Help Keep the Ecosystem in Balance
First, sharks help keep the ecosystem in balance. Like we discussed earlier, sharks are apex predators. An apex predator is an animal at the top of the food chain, meaning they hunt prey, but are not preyed upon. Not only do sharks keep prey population sizes in check, they also keep the prey population healthy by targeting sick or weak fish and other creatures. Sharks also prey upon a variety of marine creatures. They can easily switch between hunting different species if one is dwindling, leading to an increase in biodiversity.
Because the food chain is so delicate, any disruption can impact the entire food chain and ecosystem. If the shark population decreases, fish and other prey populations could explode, leading to other problems within the food chain. If the shark population is lower, it leads to an increase in mid-level predators that can, in turn, decimate the herbivorous fish prey below them. With less herbivorous fish, algae and plant populations could grow out of control and overwhelm ecosystems, like coral reefs.
These disruptions affect not only the ecosystem, but also our economy. Without sharks in the ecosystem, issues in the tourism industry and the seafood industry will arise. Coral reef tourism, for example, brings in millions of dollars each year to local economies. Many people around the world rely on local seafood fishing to feed themselves and their families. With the fish population out of balance, this could lead to food shortages.
Sharks Help Reduce Carbon Emissions
Did you know that sharks help capture carbon and reduce emissions? Because of this, sharks can actually help with climate change. As carcasses of sea creatures decompose, they release carbon. This carbon eventually makes its way back into the atmosphere. Sharks feed on caracasses of sea creatures and help reduce the amount of carbon released. Sharks also have carbon stored in their bodies. When sharks die in the wild, other fish and creatures feed on them. Again, this reduces the amount of carbon released.
When sharks are hunted by humans, it disrupts this cycle. As more and more carbon is released into the atmosphere, it contributes to global warming and climate change across the world.
Sharks Play an Essential Role in the Medical Industry
Sharks help humans in so many ways, even in ways that seem impossible! You probably didn't realize sharks can help with medical breakthroughs. Scientists use sharks to find treatments for human medical conditions, like viruses and cystic fibrosis. Shark tissue is known to have anticoagulant, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties. In fact, scientists studied sharks to help develop Sharklet AF, a plastic sheet that mimics the topography of shark skin to inhibit bacteria growth and disease spread in healthcare settings.
Researchers have also recognized cancer immunity genes in sharks. These genes are currently being studied to help identify ways to fight cancer in humans. Drugs are also being created to mimic the shark’s immune system. It can be used to help fight pulmonary fibrosis. It’s believed this could help fight other forms of fibrosis in the future.
Shop Sustainably to Help Conserve Ocean Habitats for Sharks
Now more than ever, we have to do our part to protect sharks. One way we can do this is by supporting brands that are committed to eco-forward business practices. It’s also important to educate future generations to adopt environmentally friendly habits that can be taken with them into adulthood.
At Socktopus Ink, our socks are made from recycled plastic that could have otherwise ended up in the oceans. Each pair features fun, colorful characters that invite conversations about climate change and the importance of sustainability. With sizes for babies through adults, the whole family can do their part to preserve the oceans for sharks—and every other creature in the food chain!