We are fascinated with the ocean and all the creatures it contains. The deep blue sea leaves much to be discovered, and the same goes for predators living in its depths. While sharks intrigue and scare us, we can’t seem to get enough of them. Here are a few little-known facts about our toothy buddies, the sharks:
The deep blue sea has much to be discovered, and the same goes for predators living in its depths. While sharks intrigue and scare us, we can’t seem to get enough of them. Here are a few little-known facts about our toothy buddies—the sharks:
1. They’re Not All Killing Machines
There are more than 465 species of sharks living today. Sharks can be found in every ocean. They’ve survived for so long because of their ability to adapt and change habitats often. There are even two species, the bull and river shark, that can live in freshwater. The smallest shark is the spined pygmy shark, which maxes out at 8 inches long when fully grown—which would barely be a snack for the 46-foot, 15-ton whale shark.
When summertime arrives, people flock to the beach. Every year we hear warnings about shark attacks, but are sharks really a risk? While some coastlines are more susceptible to shark encounters, bites do not happen as frequently as you may think. You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being bitten by a shark.
Out of the 400-plus species, only three are responsible for a majority of attacks—the great white, tiger, and bull sharks. Scientists believe sharks mistake humans in the water for their normal prey, not that the sharks are specifically targeting people. Sharks are also very curious and use their mouths to investigate. Sometimes a surfer or diver happens to be the focus of that curiosity—and that’s when shark bites happen.
2. Their Biology is Ancient
Sharks haven’t changed much in the last 400 million years. Their skeletons are made of cartilage, and instead of traditional scales, their skin is comprised of interlocking dermal scales. These scales are bristly and help to efficiently push water over the shark’s body.
Because cartilage isn’t as strong as bone, fossilized remains of sharks are rare. Luckily, shark teeth have a hard, enameled surface that allows them to be preserved. Scientists have relied on shark teeth to help identify and classify ancient species.
The mouth of a shark looks pretty terrifying. They have multiple rows of teeth, with the largest “working teeth” placed in front. Sharks are continuously losing and replacing their teeth, with some species using up to 300,000 teeth in a lifetime.
3. They Have Underwater Super Powers
Sharks also have sixth and seventh senses they use to navigate and hunt. They have small pores located near their snouts that contain long, jelly-filled bulbs. These bulbs are called the “ampullae of Lorenzini,” and they allow the animals to detect small electrical fields made by other animals. Sharks can use this electromagnetic information to find prey in dark or murky environments.
The seventh sense sharks use is closely related to the ampullae. It’s called the “lateral line.” The lateral line is a set of canals found below the skin that connects to pores leading out to the surface. These canals pick up on tiny vibration changes in the water, giving the shark constant updates about their surroundings. Sharks interpret these vibrations to better understand the terrain around them.
4. They Need Our Conservation Efforts
Researchers estimate between 38 and 100 million sharks are killed every year for the Chinese delicacy shark fin soup. This number is difficult to pin down because the shark trade is mostly illegal and takes place on the black market.
Shark populations have severely diminished because of this practice, and conservationists want the custom to end. Shark fishing bans and a general crackdown on fin-trading are popping up all over the world—though some worry not quickly enough.