Have you ever seen a shark? I have been lucky enough to see sharks…. well; I have only seen three sharks in my lifetime just a few metres from the backyard Mwamba Field study Centre. They were black tip reef sharks, all three of them swimming gracefully in a circular pattern very close to the shore. It was an exhilarating experience, well because it was my first real encounter besides the movie stuff. If you don’t want to see one yet, I don’t blame you. The sight of a popping fin moving in predictable patterns on the surface of the ocean sends shivers down many a spine. These fins would only mean one thing; sharks. Fueled by the many years of terrible Hollywood movies that depict sharks as ferocious man eaters most people are afraid of them.
Even before the advent of these movies sharks were historically viewed as savage creatures of the deep and therefore were hunted in a bid to make the ocean “safe”. This has led to the endangering of these creatures that are little if not misunderstood. While the reality of sharks attacking people exists, this is an extremely biased conclusion to be applied for all sharks. Out of the over 400 species of sharks known and recorded only 5 are that aggressive. It has taken the intervention of marine biologists working long hours to study, understand and hopefully change this popular perception.
Contrary to popular belief that killing off sharks would lead to a safer ocean, the reality couldn’t be possibly farther way. Sharks play a vital role in the ocean ecosystem. They serve to remove disease plagued fish from the ocean in this regard contributing to a healthier ocean. If there were no sharks, the ocean systems might even collapse. No sharks mean uncontrolled populations of smaller herbivorous fish that feed on algae and sea grass. Too many small fish would then overgraze and deplete marine plants which are also habitats for other marine creatures.
Did you know that sharks do not have bones? Their skeleton is made up of cartilage; this is also found in human ears and noses. This gives shark a distinct advantage over other fish as it is very flexible and can easily navigate corners. Another interesting fact is that sharks have multiple rows of teeth; some even have 50 rows!! Sharks’ teeth also never get cavities as they are fortified with fluoride (imagine your body making its own version of toothpaste). Some sharks glow in the dark such as Green Lantern sharks and others have feet like Epaulette sharks. In the hundreds of species of sharks we know, God has made them all unique and with peculiar interesting characteristics that would not fit in this short article.
Sharks today are endangered because of over exploitation for various reasons. A curious delicacy in Asian countries; fin soup spells a particularly cruel death to sharks. Sharks are fished just to obtain the fins then they are released back into the ocean to die a pitiful slow death. Some people hunt sharks for their teeth which are used to make jewellery.
God made all creatures of the earth for a reason. Through research and Science we now understand to some extent why we have sharks in the ocean. Wouldn’t it be lovely to say hello to our black tip reef friends when you ever get a chance?
Author: Peter Musembi