Importance of Sharks

Sharks. Probably the most feared predator in the ocean. With movies like Jaws, 47 Meters Down, etc. It is easy to see how humans came to that conclusion. The truth of the matter is that sharks play a very important role in the marine ecosystem. Throughout most of the world, sharks face serious danger. Around 100 million sharks are taken by fisheries every year. Do you know how many sharks that is?! That’s the ENTIRE population on Egypt. In good spirit of Discovery Channel’s ‘Shark Week’, I’m going to give you (very briefly) a few reasons why we need to work to preserve these shark populations.

Food Chain

This seems like an obvious one, right? They help to both marine populations above and below them. (yes, sharks are prey too) Many fish species reproduce fairly quickly. So, sharks ensure these populations don’t become overwhelming. Shark feeding habits also shift their prey’s habits. This causes the prey to move locations or change behaviors and not expend all the resources in a particular area. For example, Tiger Sharks prey on sea turtles. Sea turtles eat sea grass. Without sharks, the sea turtles would dissipate the sea grass bed. An interesting fact I learned this week, Orcas actually prey on sharks. So, not only do sharks maintain the food chain below them, but they help those above them as well.

Habitat Health

As aforementioned, sharks help to ensure habitats remain healthy. They prey on the weakest link, removing them from the gene pool. That ensures the largest, strongest, and healthiest fish reproduce. Sharks also regulate species behavior patterns and prevent overgrazing on habitats like sea grass. In coral reefs, sharks keep the other predatory fish populations in check. Without sharks, those populations would spike, decreasing the algae eater population. With no herbivores to keep the algae in check, it would eventually overtake the coral. Having sharks in a certain area is a good indication of the overall health of the habitat. It shows that everything is working in sync. 

Economy

Many people don’t realize that shark populations effect us as humans. The control of the food chain indirectly effects our economy. A study off the coast of North Carolina showed that the decline in shark populations caused an increase in the ray population. The hungry, hungry rays ate all of the bay scallops. This forced the scallop fishery in the area to close and the rays to had to move on. Sharks also bring dive tourism to certain areas (Bahamas or Belize or example), which can generate millions of dollars over a shark’s lifespan. 
This post was relatively quick, but I felt like it was something that should be shared! Shark Week is meant to bring awareness to the impact of these animals and the dangers they face. Nature doesn’t do things by accident. Every organism, every change in weather, every encounter happens for a reason. Sharks are a cornerstone in the maintenance of the marine ecosystem. Removing sharks or having a dwindling population can have detrimental and permanent effects. If you would like to help our finned friends, head over to projectaware.com to donate to their conservatory effort.

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