Shark Awareness Day
Contrary to what one might think, Shark Awareness Day does not have the sole purpose of urging swimmers and surfers to be cautious.
Sharks are top predators of any ecosystem and play an important role in maintaining healthy and productive seas. However, there are many threats that make these ocean oligarchs vulnerable and persecuted. Although no one suggests that we hug great white sharks on Shark Awareness Day (or any other day), it is the least we can do for these amazing creatures and to help them survive.
Sharks are everywhere, including the mako, the basking, the great white, the hammerhead and the nurse. These toothy fish are closely related to rays and live around 30 years. However, some species make it past 100. One Greenland shark was found to have a life expectancy of 272.
Their most distinguishing feature is their razor-sharp teeth. Sharks can have up to seven rows of gnashers, and go through as many as 30,000 in their lifetimes. Their electrical sensitivity is another key weapon in their arsenal for hunting. They can pick up electromagnetic fields more than any other animal. This allows them to find their prey even when they are hiding or camouflaged.
There are so many species of water-dwellers all around the world, it’s not surprising that they have some unique and amazing quirks. For example, did you know that bamboo sharks don’t swim, instead they push their fins along the sand to get there. Or that frilled sharks have a long 3.5 year lifespan. Did you know that hammerheads can see 360 degrees and that female sharks may sometimes reproduce by parthenogenesis (essentially, a type of cloning). Sharks are a fascinating subject!
Sharks are the oldest living species on Earth. Fossil records show that they were in our oceans around 420 million years ago. Sharks today have been around for 100 million years, which is a long time since the dinosaurs were here.
There are more than 500 shark species today, from the tiny dwarf lantern shark that can fit in your palm to the massive whale shark that can reach up to 10m. This is nothing when compared to megalodon which was a distant relative of the modern-day great White and may have been as large as 20m.
These predators and hunters have been revered by some cultures, including the Hawaiian and Pacific Island cultures. There are many mythologies and legends that tell of their respect. However, fear and stigma around these animals have been greatly influenced by cultural portrayals of them. It’s hard to find a shark movie that doesn’t depict these creatures in at least some negative light. The majority of Hollywood blockbusters, including Jaws and Deep Blue Sea, 47 Meters Down and 47 Meters Down, perpetuate the notion of sharks being bloodthirsty, vicious monsters.
People who are familiar with sharks know that they are far less endangered than humans. There are approximately 10 shark attacks that result in death each year. (For context, cows can kill 20 people per year, ants can kill 50, and falling coconuts can kill 150). Humans kill around 100 million sharks each year due to the many dangers they face.
These include bycatch and overfishing (through which their food supply is depleted and they are often killed as collateral damage to the fishing process), pollution and a high sense of danger at beaches and other coastal areas where sharks swim, leading to excessive culls.
Shark finning is a particularly cruel and wasteful practice. Only the fins are taken and the animals are thrown back into water where they will drown or be eaten.
Experts believe that shark numbers have decreased by 70% over the past 50 year, which is a significant loss to our ocean biodiversity. Shark Awareness Day is an important day to help preserve these fish, both now and in the future.
Shark Awareness Day is a day that aims to dispel fear, stigma and misinformation about sharks. It also raises awareness about the plight of this animal, encouraging people around the globe to help.
These feisty fish are in a vulnerable state, with many species being classified as threatened or even critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This has serious implications for more than just sharks.
Sharks are top predators and vitally important to healthy ecosystems. They prevent other animals’ populations from growing too large, and prey on the sick and old, helping to keep the remaining population in good health.
There are many fin-tastic ways you can get involved in Shark Awareness Day.
The event is about raising awareness and tackling stigma. One of the best ways you can celebrate the event is to learn more about these river- and sea-dwellers. You can find a lot of resources online, such as the Shark Research Institute and Shark Trust. Also, you can borrow books like The Secret Life of Sharks of the World or Sharks of the World from your local library. Check out what documentaries are available for your country, such as Sharkwater or Of Shark And Man. To dispel misinformation about these animals, share your knowledge with the world.
Help sharks by doing your part. Avoid shark products whenever possible – shark-fin soup, for example, is a common beauty product. However, squalene can be found in many products, including soaps and makeup. Leather items like belts and bags could also be made from shark skin (known as shagreen). To combat overfishing, bycatch and other problems, reduce or secure your seafood supply.
If you care deeply about sharks, why not protest the killing of sharks? Write a letter, sign a petition, organize an event, or donate to a non profit dedicated to shark conservation like Shark Savers and Shark Alliance.