14th July is celebrated as Shark Awareness Day – the day to look beyond the popular perception of these magnificent creatures. Sharks have been long touted as gruesome killers, and even man-eaters.
But this is far from reality. If truth is to be told, they fear humans as much humans fear them! Also we are a far greater threat to sharks than they are to us. The probability of being attacked by a shark is roughly around 1 in 11.5 million, while on the other hand it is estimated that humans kill around 100 million sharks annually!
So, contrary to the popular belief, the math just doesn’t match for these vilified creatures. This baseless fear of sharks has been much instigated by movies and media! Sharks are critical to our marine ecosystem. They maintain the ocean’s health by preying on old and sick, thus helping prevent the spread of diseases and maintaining a healthy gene pool.
Sharks are an indispensable piece of marine ecosystem puzzle and they just cannot be discarded. These apex predators have few natural enemies. They have a big role to play in maintaining the food web, far from what meets the eye. It is believed that eliminating sharks from the marine ecosystem would adversely impact our ocean’s health, affecting its ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
Why are Sharks Endangered?
Sadly, humans are responsible for the dwindling shark population. Increased human activity, destruction of habitat and a huge demand for shark fins, shark teeth has led to depleting populations of certain shark species so much that they are now listed endangered and some are even critically close to extinction.
With such a scenario at hand, raising awareness and educating people, especially youth, about this top predator can bring a positive change.
20 Facts About Sharks
1. Sharks have outlived dinosaurs, which roamed our planet nearly 200 million years ago and are among the oldest animals of Earth. These graceful creatures have been around for the past 400 million years and there is a good reason why!
2. Sharks come in various shapes and sizes. There are about 400 different types of sharks, each with a different temperament.
3. Sharks do not have any bones in their bodies. They are cartilaginous fishes meaning their skeletons are made of cartilage not bones. Your nose and ear too are made of cartilage.
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4. They have excellent vision and can see very well even in little light. This helps them spot their prey easily at night.
5. Unlike other fishes those have scales, shark’s skin is tough and covered in teeth-like structures called dermal denticles.
6. Whale shark is the largest shark as well as the biggest fish. It can reach up to 50 feet long and weigh around 20 tons.
7. Sharks have electroreceptor organs that allow them to sense temperature shifts and electromagnetic fields in the oceans.
8. Most sharks are excellent swimmers and can swim at a speed of 32 to 40 kilometer per hour.
9. Sharks have an excellent sense of smell that helps them identify their prey over long distances.
10. Whale shark spots are as unique as human fingerprints.
11. A baby shark is called a pup and is independent as soon as it is born.
12. Sharks vary from each other in how they reproduce. Some give birth to live young while others lay eggs.
13. Sharks go into a trance or a sleep like state when flipped over.
14. At a time, sharks have about 3000 teeth divided into 5 rows. Also they lose up to 100 teeth a day.
15. Obligate ram-ventilating sharks include great white sharks, mako sharks and whale sharks. They never rest and have to keep swimming their entire lives. Continuous swimming allows water to pass through their gills and deliver oxygen to their blood. In case these sharks are not able to swim, like when caught in fishing net, they can die due to suffocation.
16. Some sharks sleep with their eyes open with part of their brain awake (Uni-hemispheric sleep) to keep them from drowning. They aren’t the only animals that have strange sleep habits.
17. Whale sharks are estimated to have a lifespan of around 150 years while the smaller sharks are estimated to live up to 20 to 30 years.
18.Most sharks have darker upper bodies and lighter undersides. This helps them blend-in, camouflage, in the ocean waters. Camouflage helps them stay hidden and catch their prey.
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19. Chain cat shark and swell shark are bio-fluorescent meaning they glow in the dark.
20. The smallest shark is the Dwarf Lantern shark measuring only 19 centi-meters.
Types of Sharks
These are the largest sharks and the biggest fishes. Whale sharks are spotty and each whale shark has its own unique pattern of spots. They are found in the warm waters of Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. These creatures, despite their enormous size, feed on tiny planktons and filter feeders. They give birth to live young measuring only 16 to 24 inches at birth.
2. Basking Shark
These gentle giants are the second biggest sharks to swim our oceans. Like Whale sharks, Basking sharks too are filter feeders. They swim with their mouths wide open and appear to be basking all the time, hence the name Basking Sharks. Found in all oceans of the world, these docile fishes prefer cold, temperate waters compared to warm waters.
3. Great White Shark
These great predators are found across all the oceans. Great whites are curious by nature and have a formidable image as the most fearsome predators in the ocean. However, even these terrifying creatures are afraid of the menacing killer whales.
They can grow up to six meters long and weigh more than 4000 pounds. These sharks are excellent swimmers with an unmatchable sense of smell that allows them to smell their prey even from two miles.
4. Mako Shark
Found throughout tropical and temperate seas, Mako sharks are fierce predators and the fastest sharks. These fast swimmers can grow up to 14.5 feet and weigh up to 500 Kgs. There are two types of mako sharks – Long finned mako shark and short finned mako shark.
5. Bull Shark
These large sharks are infamous for their aggressive behaviour. They are characterised by their blunt snout and can regulate their bodies to live both in fresh water as well as salt water. This makes them unique to the shark species. These fearsome sharks can grow up to 11.5 feet and weigh nearly 500 pounds.
6. Tiger Shark
Tiger sharks dwell in tropical and subtropical waters of the world and are voracious hunters, much like their terrestrial namesake. The name Tiger shark comes from tiger-like stripes on the bodies of their young. However, as these sharks grow these stripes almost fade out. Aggressive and built to kill, these sharks can grow up to 14 feet and weigh nearly 1400 pounds.
7. Hammerhead Shark
One of the most distinct looking sharks, hammerhead sharks can be easily distinguished from the shape of their heads. These gifted hunters use their mallet shaped heads to scan the wide range of ocean at a time to hunt. Found across all warm and tropical zones, these creatures can grow up to 20 feet and weigh nearly 1000 pounds.
8. Thresher Sharks
The long tail fin of thresher sharks makes them unmistakable to recognise. Measuring nearly half of their body length, the tail fin is used by thresher sharks to stun and herd prey. There are three types of thresher sharks – Common thresher shark, pelagic thresher shark and big-eye thresher shark. Found in tropical and sub-tropical waters, these sharks are known to migrate to temperate waters to hunt.
9. Blue Sharks
The name blue shark comes from their coloration, which is unique to the shark species. These beautiful, stunning creatures have dark blue backs, lighter blue sides and white undersides. These open-ocean, big-eyed sharks are migratory in nature and are found in temperate and tropical oceans of the world.
10. Brown banded Bamboo Shark
These relatively much smaller sharks are found in shallow waters and are nocturnal in nature. These sharks get their name from distinct dark and light bands on their bodies. Much like tiger sharks, these bands are more pronounced in juveniles and fade as these sharks grow.
Shark Books for Kids
This is a funny book that highlights the point how our fear of sharks (and their teeth) has earned them a bad reputation without really any fault. Funny and packed with facts, this book highlights what it feels to be misunderstood.
A National Geographic Kids publication, this book is packed with facts and amazing pictures of everything related to sharks. Just perfect for shark obsessed kids.
This Cat in the Hat series is apt for young readers who are not yet ready to absorb too much information and yet are greedy for real knowledge.
If you are a shark lover or raising one, you cannot miss this title. Learn about Eugenie Clark and how she dispelled so many sensational myths (which media so fondly created) about these beautiful creatures. A great STEM book to inspire!
This wonderfully illustrated tale gives you a glimpse into the life of a fish. Funny, entertaining and packed with facts woven in a story, this book is a reader’s delight.
This beautifully illustrated book packs a plethora of shark facts and banishes popular myths about these great creatures.
7. Shark Pictures (Shark Books for Kids)
This picture book lets your child explore the thrilling world of sharks through stunning pictures and narrative that will greatly enhance their knowledge.
What if all sharks disappeared? How will it affect our oceans? These are the questions this book answers. A great book to educate your kids about the significance of animals and the role they play in maintaining ecological balance.
True to its title, this book is suited for every young shark enthusiast. Tonnes of shark facts packed into this one!
Join marine biologists as they set out to spy on sharks and uncover hidden mysteries about these creatures. This book will surely excite your child.