Few animals in the ocean are as frightening as sharks. Most people believe that they one of the most dangerous predators in nature, which is not entirely true. According to World Wildlife Fund, there are over one thousand species of sharks and rays in the ocean, and new ones are discovered every year. The basking and whale sharks are among the largest species of sharks, and their diet is based on fish eggs and tiny organisms (via Oceana).
Despite the fear they evoke, sharks are not typically man-eaters, and numbers can prove that. According to the Florida Museum, sharks attacked 57 people in unprovoked attacks in 2020. These incidents often occur in blurry waters, when sharks hunt for bigger prey such as seals and dolphins (via WWF).
The truth is that sharks are vital for marine ecosystems. The animals help mitigate the effects of climate change and help to improve tourism in some countries.
Sharks are vital for the environment
Oceans are responsible for capturing between five and 12 billion tons of carbon every year. The carbon stored in the marine ecosystem is known as blue carbon, and the presence of sharks protects those areas since turtles and other prey species will avoid it. As a result, there will be an increase in seagrass, capturing carbon 35 faster than tropical rainforests (via Shark Guardian).
When a shark dies of natural causes, the carbon into its body is captured into the sediments. Which means the carbon isn’t released into the atmosphere. The sharks’ carcasses can often become the home of deep-sea scavengers.
During their lives, sharks also help to create micro-habitats for tiny animals. When they look for food in sandy areas, sharks excavate the sand, creating a perfect environment for invertebrates (via WWF).
Sharks are also crucial for the phytoplankton, a microscopic marine plant that creates oxygen through photosynthesis and regulates food web dynamics. The animals often dive deep to eat them, and on their way back, they defecate, spreading crucial nutrients improving the growth of phytoplankton.
Sharks are indeed fascinating. Unsurprisingly, the tourism of some cities relies on them. According to research, Indonesia could lose 25% of diving tours if there were no sharks in the region (via Frontiers in Marine Science).
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