The Great White Shark: Friend or Foe?
Few creatures can conjure up as much fear in our minds as the Great White Shark. We’ve all seen Jaws and read horrifying accounts about fatal shark attacks and gruesome near-misses. Even a simple YouTube search about sharks will keep you out of the water for a year! But how bad are these animals really? Here are some interesting facts about these beautiful animals that will have you reconsidering your beliefs and booking that trip to get into the water and learn more!
Sharks are one of the oldest living creatures on the planet, with the Great White Shark estimated to be over 16 million years old. So, it makes sense that they would be a crucial part of the eco-system that has allowed them to survive over time. It is easiest to think about the ocean food chain as more like a web, with many scientists placing sharks at the top of this web. By eating weaker or older fish, sharks help keep these fish populations healthier and producing stronger offspring in greater numbers.
Like the shark, there are other prey species in the ocean that have an important impact on the eco-system as a whole. For example, herbivores such as the sea turtle spend their time grazing on the best sea grasses in the ocean. The presence of sharks is intimidating and reduces the ability of the herbivores to over-feed in the same area and causing them to shift their feeding grounds. Scientists have found that the presence of sharks has a positive impact on the health of sea grasses and coral.
If we remove sharks from the eco-system then the presence of smaller predators, like the grouper and snapper, would increase and result in the decline of many smaller fish populations. Don’t believe it? Reefs in remote Pacific island regions have large shark population numbers and these areas also have as much as 4 times the amount of fish than reefs that do not have the same shark numbers. The presence of sharks helps keep the marine eco-system healthy.
Sadly, shark numbers internationally are declining primarily as a result of overfishing driven by a demand for shark fins. They are also killed when they are accidently caught in nets used for fishing other species, recreational fishing or even shark culling.
Important conservation work is being undertaken by shark conservation organisations in the hopes of raising awareness about the threats faced by sharks, further understanding the important role of the shark in the marine eco-system, and also breaking down the some of the stereotypes and fear surrounding these animals. As with any conservation project, education and awareness is at the forefront of this work, supported by research and data.
So, are you convinced? If you are interested in learning more about these fascinating creatures or even getting the chance to hop in the water with a Great White Shark, then I have the project for you. Spend your next vacation in sunny South Africa helping researchers collect data. Don’t worry, you’ll be in a cage!
Ready to pop on that wetsuit? To learn more about this incredible opportunity, click here!
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