If you watch any amount of television, you probably know that this week was Shark Week on the Discovery Network.
This annual televised celebration of sharks started way back in 1987, and was originally developed to raise awareness and respect for sharks. Now broadcast in over 72 countries, Shark Week has succumbed to the reality TV scourge that permeates nearly every known network. Instead of showing real marine biologists and conservationists working to understand and protect sharks, the week-long television festival is rife with shows solely focused on their predatory nature, some of which don’t actually exist.
Don’t believe me? Check out this “Megalodon documentary” that was complete fiction.
Don’t despair. We know that sharks are a grossly misunderstood yet vital element of the global ecosystem. To celebrate them, and in the true spirit of the original Shark Week, we present seven awesome and shocking facts you didn’t know about these beautiful creatures:
1. Sharks have a sixth sense that humans dont: the ability to detect electrical fields. Special organs in their snouts enable them to pick up on the tiny electrical pulses emitted from the muscle movements or beating hearts of potential prey.
2. Sharks almost never get sick. “Shark tissue appears to have anticoagulant and antibacterial properties. Scientists are studying it in hopes of finding treatments for a number of medical conditions, including viruses, cystic fibrosis and some forms of cancer,” explains Conservation International.
3. Through a phenomenon called parthenogenesis, female sharks can produce offspring without help from males. The egg essentially fertilizes itself!
4. Sharks don’t hunt humans. Most “attacks” on humans are mistakes due to poor water visibility or are inquisitive bites (the ocean is their house, after all). This is why there are so many more bites than fatalities. Besides, humans taste like the crap we eat. Blech.
5. A species called the Lantern shark can glow to disguise themselves in the deep ocean. They “[emit] the same amount of light as that which is filtering down from above; this way, they don’t create a ‘shadow,’” reports Douglas Main of Live Science. ”Velvet belly lantern sharks have glowing spines that may be used to ward off predators.”
6. Sharks help keep the carbon cycle in motion. “By feeding on dead matter that collects on the seafloor, scavengers like deep-sea sharks, hagfish and starfish not only keep themselves alive, they also help to move carbon through the ocean” (Conservation International).
7. Humans kill a staggering number of sharks every year. Some scientists estimate that for every one person killed by a shark, 25 million sharks are killed by people. (Check out this infographic for a stunning visualization of this ratio). Most of this is due to the gruesome and pointless act of shark finning and incidental “bycatch” in fishing equipment. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are 201 sharks on the Red List of endangered species.
To lose many more of these vital ocean predators would severely alter the balance of our marine ecosystems. Only by continuing to fight for stronger protections and shark finning bans will we be able to save these fierce yet graceful animals.
Image via lotuspilgrim/Flickr