There are more than 500 species of sharks, including Goblin Sharks, Hammerhead Sharks, and Whale Sharks, roaming around our oceans and, well, there’s really no need to be scared. They are, of course, large and are equipped with very scary, sharp-looking teeth––but they’re more than just the ocean’s predators. In fact, assuming that sharks are just that is a huge disservice to these wonderful water creatures. They range in size, color, and just about every attribute a species can have. Some feed on different planktons, some feed on bigger fish. Some are found deeper in the ocean, some are found in open spaces and coral reefs.
Whatever and wherever they are, their existence relies on their vital roles in the ocean’s ecosystem. Sharks, alongside their sharp-toothed relatives, were the first known vertebrate predators. Their innate power, speed, and overall prowess––having evolved and honed for millions and millions of years––have allowed them to keep their lion-esque title: to be the kings and queens of the waters or, shall I say, the apex predators. For all these years, however, they have kept the ecosystem balanced.
Description and Appearance
Even if you haven’t seen a shark up close, it’s impossible not to have a mental image of how they would look like if you have. Sharks are usually cylindrical in shape and have tapered edges. This structure helps them to maneuver quickly in deep waters as they hunt for prey. Different shark species differ in length, however, and dare I say that these are drastic changes in numbers. The smallest species have been found to be 20 centimeters long and, on the other hand, the largest one ranges at 12 meters. Usually, sharks can be found at around 5 to 7 meters long––pretty intimidating numbers for just your normal, everyday shark. As for their weights, it can range from around 1500 to 4000 pounds––with the heaviest one weighing almost 6000 pounds.
Now, I understand that some of you might be intimidated by these sizes because honestly, who wouldn’t be? However, what if it came in a more welcoming version––possibly in the form of a soft plushie? Gage Beasley has just that for you! All 50 inches of this Giant Shark Soft Stuffed Plush Toy out of the waters and onto your bed.
However, no matter what their sizes are, all sharks share the same anatomy. As fellow elasmobranchs (a subclass of animals including skates and rays), a shark’s skeleton is made of cartilage––a flexible, light, yet very strong material found in a human’s nose and ears. For elasmobranchs, this is a defining feature knowing that most fishes are made up of bones. As for its teeth, every shark has several rows of teeth lining its jaws. Fun fact alert! Sharks actually shed their teeth, replacing them with new ones. In its lifetime, a shark can lose (and replace) thousands of teeth. Some have razor-sharp teeth, some have flatter teeth, while some are just filter-feeders who aren’t really big on the teeth business (like Whale Sharks).
If we’re talking about teeth, we can’t leave Goblin Sharks out of the conversation. As if their teeth were sharpened every morning for their morning routines, these sharks are just a nightmare to bear with. Gage Beasley’s Goblin Shark Soft Stuffed Plush Toy, however, is a nightmare-turned-dream-come-true! Now, you can finally see their jaws and razor-sharp teeth personally––they’re just a little softer as they are in plush form. Who knew plushies can turn even Goblin Sharks into cute critters?
Sharks use their natural colors for camouflage and to blend with their surroundings. If we’re talking about hide-and-catch-prey, sharks are unanimous winners. Talking about appearances, one shark clearly catches the eye of children and adults alike: the Hammerhead Shark. With their oddly-shaped, hammer-looking heads, how can we leave them out in the appearance section of the article? Unlike other species, hammerheads are usually bigger, stronger of the bunch––even going as far as 20-feet long and 400kg heavy. Normally, these aren’t really the statistics you’re looking for in a pet, but what if they were just 40cm and are huggable pretty much throughout the whole night. Gage Beasley’s Hammerhead Shark Soft Stuffed Plush Toy is made for you, then! Sleep tight knowing a Hammerhead Shark plushie is there to protect you from nightmares and creepy crawlies.
Diet and Ecology
Sharks are apex predators. They have absolutely no problem with consuming their relatives. Larger sharks will consume other species just so they can get through the day with a full stomach. All sharks are carnivorous, too, so they will only eat other animals for their nourishment. Their culinary taste involves a diet of turtles, seals, dolphins, and the occasional seagull––not to mention other fish and mammals in the ocean.
As big and scary as these sharks can get, most people believe that they have no natural predators––to which they would be incorrect. Smaller shark species have been known to be included in the diets of killer whales and sperm whales––but of course, they will consume just about anything in their way. Sharks, despite their apex-level predatorial habits, are also food. Apart from their own species, their protein and fat counts are very alluring to an orca whale or a sperm whale’s diet. The former, being the killer whales, are apex predators of their own, too––to which even the largest of sharks are not willing to hunt them.
Sharks, in general, exhibit a diverse set of reproductive modes. There are sharks that are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs, and there are some that are viviparous or live-bearing
Oviparous sharks lay eggs that are developed and hatched outside the mother’s body. Take note that these eggs are guided by no such parent after they are laid. The small shark embryos are nourished by a yolk-sac in the egg capsule. Viviparous sharks, on the other hand, are either placental (embryonic tissue is connected to the maternal tissue) or aplacental (no placenta present). As for the aplacental species, the embryos rely upon the yolk-sac for nutrition during gestation.
The exact amount of laid eggs for oviparous sharks vary per species. Sharks are known to have long pregnancies––averaging a year at best. However, some species have as little as 5 months for gestation, some even shorter at 3 months. The lifespan of sharks ranges from 20 to 30 years.
Distribution and Conservation Status
Alongside rays, sharks have adapted to living in many different habitats at different temperatures––a result only millions of years can warrant. Some sharks live in shallow and coastal regions while some are adamant about living in very deep waters. Some are found openly in the ocean while some scavenge the ocean floors. Even though sharks can be found in many different places across the globe, their main habitats are found around the United States of America and Australia. With more than 400 living species of sharks around the world, they are divided into, at most, around 30 different shark families. Shark bingo, anyone?
Their conservation status, however, is as dreadful as you know it. Millions of sharks are caught for their dorsal fins every year. These fins are commonly used for shark fin soup, a cultural delicacy in Southeast Asia. As one of the few top predators of the sea, sharks are vital to maintaining biodiversity. Their non-existence can prove very fatal to the ecosystem. With an estimated 100 million sharks killed every year for commercial and recreational use, sharks are quickly lowering in number. Recently, fisheries have grouped sharks and rays together––making it more difficult to find the specific number of how many sharks are fished.
Scientists have said that one-quarter of the shark species, alongside their fellow elasmobranchs, are already facing extinction according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria. Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising at all as sharks are one of the most vulnerable species to overfishing. Not only do they grow very slowly, but they also take months to reproduce compared to other sea creatures. They’re slow to replenish their numbers in population and are notoriously killed and fished by people.
Sharks, though feared by many, aren’t the violent creatures you know them to be. They aren’t Jaws or The Meg levels, but they are predators of the sea nonetheless. Sharks are beautiful animals that provide balance in biodiversity and within the ecosystem. They are vital pieces in replenishing nature––especially the oceans––that is if we still want to save the earth. For your information, sharks rarely attack humans. More often than not, humans are just in the way of sharks when they find something to eat. Sharks retreat when they realize that it was actually human skin they bit––and not something out of their grocery list.
Humans are big fans of sharks. This is mainly because of the fiction that surrounds it and its interesting lore. However, media has overpowered the facts––bringing in stories that only put fear into people. This, in turn, conditions humans that sharks do prey on humans when they really don’t.
Another thing to look into is the shark’s conservation status. We know all about how sharks are prone to be overfished, and while many have tried to counteract that, these efforts are still not enough. Individual countries have already taken steps into shark protection––banning the likes of selling shark fins, trades, transport, and shark sanctuaries where shark fishing is not allowed. Hopefully, more countries take action and preserve these beautiful sea creatures. Besides, sharks are models of strength––and in a world full of fish, always remember to be a shark.