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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. They occupy almost every marine ecosystem on earth and some are even able to survive in freshwater!
All shapes & sizes
When talking about sharks you may envisage the classic torpedo-shaped body of the White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) but the world of sharks offers fascinating diversity - from the tiny Pygmy Lantern Shark (Etmopterus fusus) with its glowing belly, to the impressive filter feeding Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) that can grow up to 17m in length. The Epaulette Shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) uses its fins to walk over coral reefs and the bizarre looking Tasselled Wobbegong (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon) uses camouflage to hide from its prey. Blue Sharks (Prionace glauca) undertake huge migrations thousands of miles long, whereas the Zebra Shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) is a sedentary species.
Why are sharks important?
Despite being perfectly adapted to their environment sharks are among 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.
Sharks in danger
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. 30% of EU and 50% of UK shark species are listed as threatened and some species are reported to have declined by 99%. Populations continue to decline under the intense pressure of unmanaged modern fisheries practices, driven by global consumer demand for shark based products.
How can you help
To discover more about the interesting world of sharks click on the links below:
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