It’s finally here, the summer's most anticipated week—Shark week! Not only is this week filled with amazing documentaries, intense recorded encounters, informational television shows, and wild experiences, it's also the perfect time to reflect on how majestic and important the shark species actually is. Bringing awareness to an apex predator is so important, to ensure the health and survival of all marine populations.
Though widely feared, sharks play a crucial role in the oceans health and marine ecosystem. Both sharks, rays, and skates belong to the elasmobranchs fish family that includes 1,200 species. This group of fish have various characteristics that set them apart from other schools—they have five to seven pairs of gills that open individually to their exterior, and their skeleton is made of cartilage, not bone—just to name a few. Their cartilage interior allows them to gracefully and flexibly move through the water with ease. Also, compared to whales and dolphins, sharks are fish not mammals, meaning they lay eggs rather than birthing grown offspring.
These fish have huge impacts on regulating smaller populations, bringing balance and stability to a range of ecosystems. They also exude scavenger behavior which allows them to remove organic material off ocean floors and surfaces, creating a nutrient cycle. Their behavior and dominance can also influence the surrounding species, bringing healthy diversity and distribution across other species. Unfortunately, this year  it is found that one-third of the 1,200 species are at risk. Faced with numerous environmental and anthropological challenges, such as overfishing, poaching, bycatching, loss of habitats and ocean degradation due to human activity, these species have become innocent casualties.
A recent global study conducted at James Cook University in Australia found a 60-75% decline in reef sharks due to overfishing. This statistic is incredibly alarming and can lead to major consequences—other species can become dominant in ecosystems they should not, invasive species can develop, and prey populations can grow to dangerous levels causing a marine life imbalance, among many others. Gaining all the resources we can to look through the eyes of a shark, will allow us to better understand who they are, their importance and role in biodiversity, and allow us to devise proper ways to aid their survival.
How can we get involved?
- Educate yourself on sharks and why they are important to our marine ecosystems.
- Watch inspiring documentaries on the Discovery channel, National Geographic, or HBO.
- Join organizations or agencies such as—The Shark Trust, The Shark Alliance, or Oceana. Or follow inspirational shark enthusiasts, like Mike Coots on social media for a personal look into their world.