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Sharks have inhabited our oceans for over 400 hundred million years and survived five mass extinctions, demonstrating perfect adaption to their environment and making them one of the most supreme apex predators in the world. They occupy almost every marine ecosystem on earth and some can even survive in freshwater.
When many people think of the word ‘shark’ they often envisage a classic torpedo-shaped image. In fact, there are actually over 1000 Chondrichthyans in total, with over 500 species of shark, 600 species of skate and ray (batoids) and 30 chimaera found worldwide, all of which fulfil a different niche. The White Shark is perhaps the most famous but the world of sharks offers fascinating variety; from the tiny Pygmy Lantern Shark with its glowing belly to the impressive gentle giant of the ocean the Whale Shark at 17m long, the Epaulette Shark that walks over reefs using its fins, to the strange Tasselled Wobbegong which camouflages with the coral reefs and can even extend its jaw to bring in prey, Blue Sharks which migrate thousands of miles across oceans, to Zebra Sharks which have adapted to remain as sedentary as possible.
Despite being perfectly adapted to their environment sharks rank amongst the most endangered species on the planet because of the impacts of humans. As apex predators sharks, just like wolves and lions on land, fulfil a key role in maintaining the balance of the ocean by keeping other populations in check. As they prey on the weakest species (such as the sick and old), they also prevent the spread of disease and improve the gene pool, providing healthy ecosystems. However their life history strategy of slow growth, late maturity and few offspring makes them extremely vulnerable to exploitation. Recent assessments by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group ranked the sharks of the Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea with the worst conservation status of all assessed regions. Thirty percent of EU and fifty percent of UK shark species are listed as threatened and some species are reported to have declined by ninety nine percent. Populations continue to decline under the intense pressure of unmanaged modern fisheries practices, driven by global consumer demand for shark based products.
The Shark Trust works to advance the worldwide conservation of sharks through science, education, influence and action. There are a number of ways you can help, from getting involved in our projects, becoming a member or adding your voice to one of our campaigns. We strongly believe that raising awareness about shark conservation is vital to ensuring the future survival of sharks.
To discover more about the interesting world of sharks click on the links below:
➤ Shark Biology
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