Friday, August 17, 2012

Fintastic Facts

If you've been watching Shark Week, which I expect you have, then you can agree when I say this is one of the best years so far! I have loved each and every special, even the ones I didn't expect to care for as much. Commenting on Shark Week like it's Monday night football sounds so extremely geeky, but I don't give a hoot. It's just too much fun!
Since it is Shark Week, I'd like to elaborate on some cool shark stuff! There are a lot of facts that would have astounded many people just a few years ago. Let's name a few...

The aptly named Black Tip Reef Shark.
Sharks maintain the marine ecosystem. You might have heard this quite a few times over the years once Shark Week comes around. When scientists and conservationists say this, they are alluding to the food chain phenomenon. Sharks are obviously the big bad predators of the deep. They have a diet of smaller fish and organisms which, if not kept down in populations, can and will overpower the seas. Then their prey will become scarce, maybe even to the brink of extinction. Some of these prey items are autotrophs (organisms that make their own food, mainly from photosynthesis, such as algae). These guys take carbon dioxide in and eventually convert this to oxygen, along with food for themselves. Without these marine autotrophs, carbon dioxide levels will go up and oxygen levels will go down. This is obviously bad.
Anyways, the shortened version is that things will get out of whack. If shark populations are jacked up, the oceans are jacked up. If the oceans are jacked up, we're jacked up. And we don't want to be jacked up. Because that means we die. I know, way to be positive, Claire.

Some shark species can't breathe unless they're constantly moving. Certain species, such as the frightening great white, must always have water passing through their gills to have oxygen flow. That means if you're a great white shark, you will be moving for the rest of your sharky life. No exceptions. Unless you want to suffocate. 
If a shark gets caught in a net (which is actually highly likely), most of the time it will die from suffocation. After much struggling to get out of the net, it will become extremely tangled and trapped. It's quite sad. So far these facts aren't too positive! Sorry, y'all.

A nose full of ampullae of Lorenzini.
Sharks have a sixth sense. It's like a story off the movie screen. A top predator of the ocean has an incredible ability of electroreception. If you get close enough to the head of a shark you can see these pores in their nose. They're called the ampullae of Lorenzini. These jelly-filled pores can sense electric fields in the water. Even if the water is murky, they can sense movements of prey. Science is even showing that these sensory organs can give the sharks an awareness of where they are on the earth magnetically. So they may be using their ampullae while migrating great distances. 

Sharks have high-tech teeth. Yes, I know it sounds insane. Scientists have found behaviors that point to sharks' teeth actually "tasting" objects. For example, once a shark bites an unwanted object, like a buoy or a boat propeller, they will usually "spit it out" and look for their real prey (fish, seals, squid, etc.). They don't swallow or chew it around for a bit; they sink their teeth into it and then let it go. 
Also, their teeth are extremely sharp. Duh. They're sharks. Shark teeth have been compared to steak knives and razors. Even shark tooth fossils buried in the ground for millions of years are considered dangerously sharp to the touch. 
Rows of teeth in a bull shark.
A shark's teeth are made like clockwork in their mouth. The action is compared to a conveyor belt. Once a tooth is lost because of a brawl with a whale or a hunt of a seal, it's replaced by one right below it. Throughout their life, sharks must go through hundreds of teeth. And each one of them can cut through most anything with a couple head shakes. A shark's main weapon is definitely their teeth, no doubt about it. I know I wouldn't want to get face to mouth with one of those guys with no protection!
Some sharks, however, don't have this conveyor belt system of steak-knife-sharp teeth. Basking sharks and whale sharks are considered filter feeders, so they'll gulp in large amounts of water containing small organisms and "filter out" the yummy goodness. 

They're not all bad. Not all sharks are large, ferocious creatures that resemble Jaws. Actually, out of the hundreds of species of sharks in the world, only a handful of them have been reported to attack humans. There has been so much drama associated with sharks in the history of mankind, but we only know of the "big bad" great whites or the "big bad" bulls. What about the docile whale shark? What about the slow-moving Greenland shark? What about the nurse shark, considered the "catfish of the sharks?" Let me tell ya, folks, they're not all bad. And once we see that, we'll want to conserve them so we can learn more about them and save our oceans in the meantime.  


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