As one of the ocean’s top predators, sharks have been feared by fishermen and beach-goers for centuries. While shark attacks often make headlines around the globe, there is more than meets the eye to this widely diverse and often misunderstood group of animals. With over 400 documented species of sharks in the ocean, here are a few shark facts to help you better understand one of the most important animals to the oceans’ ecosystems:
- Not all sharks eat people: In fact, the biggest sharks including the whale shark and the basking shark, are filter feeders, dining on the oceans smallest organisms – plankton. Several shark species could be considered “fussy eaters” dining preferentially on specific types of fish such as a population of mako sharks on the east coast of North America that prefer bluefish.
- Some sharks are warm-blooded: While most sharks are cold blooded animals meaning their body temperature changes with the external conditions around them, some sharks including the great white shark and the salmon shark are actually warm blooded. This enables them to explore waters outside the tropics zone, allowing them to feed in different areas and on different species.
- Sharks reproduce a number of ways: Sharks have a variety of reproduction methods. Some species of sharks have eggs hatch inside the mother’s body (viviparity), they then give birth to live pups. Other species deposit eggs into the ocean which will hatch later if they are not eaten by predators (oviparity), and finally in some species the eggs hatch and the babies develop inside the female’s body but there is no placenta to nourish the pups (ovoviviparous). The pups eat any unfertilized eggs and each other with very few pups in a litter surviving until birth.
- Sharks are living right off the B.C. coast: A number of sharks call the Pacific Coast home including the Pacific spiny dogfish, the sixgill shark, and the salmon shark. Keep your eyes peeled next time you’re diving or on the water; as Jessica Schultz, research coordinator at the Vancouver Aquarium, shows us in this video you never know what might surprise you.[youtube]https://youtu.be/EWpL8aTxSak[/youtube]
- Some sharks are very small: When you think of sharks in general, typically the larger species come to mind from hammerheads to great white to whale sharks. However, a number of species of catsharks, laternsharks and the spined pygmy shark all come in at under 30 centimetres, smaller than the size of your standard ruler.
- Sharks have a sixth sense: All sharks are equipped with electroreceptors which can detect naturalelectrical stimuli – in fact sharks are the world’s most electrically sensitive animals. Not to be confused with animals such as the electric eel which produces electricity, sharks have the ability to sense electrical pulses. Some sharks such as the lemon shark, rely heavily on electrolocation in the final stages of their attacks.
- One third of sharks are endangered: In an average year sharks kill about eight people. While this is tragic, humans kill approximately 100 million each year, making us the bigger threat. Due to overfishing for shark fins and bycatch, many shark species are now classified as endangered. That’s something we’d like to see more of in the headlines.
Want to learn more about sharks and shark conservation? Join us online on Twitter this Wednesday, July 8 at 11 a.m. PST to hear from shark expert, Lee Newman. Ask your questions to @vanaqua with #sharkchat to learn more about this diverse ocean animal.
You can also visit the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre during Shark Week (July 5 to July 12) or any time of year to see them up close and learn what you can do to help protect this important apex species.