Actual Shark Facts You Should Read on Shark Awareness Day

A reef shark photographed in the Bahamas.

HAPPY SHARK AWARENESS DAY! I’m not sure who decreed it so but every July 14th is Shark Awareness Day. It’s a time to appreciate our cartilaginous fellow travelers on Planet Earth with a generous supply of actual shark facts.

To judge by what we see on cable television, sharks are cold-blooded psychopaths always in a brutal frenzy of hunting man and beast, ready to grab a tasty arm or foot at the first opportunity.

LESS A THREAT THAN LIGHTNING

In fact, they’re not exactly sweethearts but they are essential members of the web of life, playing an outsized role as apex predators who keep the ocean in balance.

First up among actual shark facts: It’s almost a cliche by now that despite sharks’ man-eating reputations, you’re much more likely to be killed by a lightning strike than by a shark.

A nurse shark vacationing in Bonaire.

Sharks have been here much longer than we have – by as much as 420 million years, although we humans appear to be doing our best to eliminate them. Considering shark finners and idiots like Ernest Hemmingway who delighted in shooting them with shotguns, for the joy of it.

RANDOM ACTUAL SHARK FACTS

  • Sharks aren’t naturally maneaters. They prefer marine life, like seals. Shark attacks on humans average 19 per year.
  • They aren’t even all predators. Whale sharks and nurse sharks, for example, are filter feeders, and bonnethead sharks are grass eaters.
  • Research has proven that sharks are smart – at least some of them – with good memories. They can be trained to recognize shapes and colors. They can learn from each other.
  • Their brains are among the proportionally largest among fishes.
  • Sharks have distinct personalities and are social animals, forming friendships with other sharks. They can learn from each other, such as hunting techniques.

ACTUAL SHARK FACTS, CONTINUED

  • When hunting, great white sharks position themselves so that the glare from the sun is behind them, enhancing their view of prey and reducing the prey’s view of them.
  • Sharks have an organ in their snouts called the ampullae of Lorenzini, containing a jelly that is a superb proton conductor. It helps them detect very faint electrical signals generated by other animals (also known as prey).
  • The common frilled shark – Chlamydoselachus anguineus – has the longest gestation period of any animal – 3.5 years before giving birth.
  • The Greenland shark is very long lived, maturing at about 150 years and living as long as 400.
  • The smallest species of shark known (so far) is the pocket shark (Mollisquama parini) about 5.5 inches long.

It’s okay to feed sharks this way.

JUST DON’T DO THIS

And just to be clear, here’s a link to video about something really stupid – hand-feeding a shark. The tile says it all – “Hand-Feeding Sharks is a Terrible Idea.”

AND ANOTHER THING

One thing you can do in support of sharks if you live in the United States: Contact your U.S. Representative and urge them to support H.R. 1456 – Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2017. While laws exist banning shark finning, they have loopholes. HR 1416 would make selling and using shark fins a crime as well as the finning itself.

The bill has more than 200 bipartisan cosponsors and is moving slowly through the Congressional process. The last action on it was a subcommittee hearing in April, 2018. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate. At the sate level, similar laws have already been passed by California, Hawaii, Oregon and the Territory of Guam.

PRINCIPAL SOURCES: Five Myths About Sharks Awesome Ocean; “10 amazing and little-known facts on Shark Awareness Day,” International Business Times; “Sharks as you won’t see them on Shark Week: Intelligent and remarkably social animals,” VOX.com;  “5 Facts People Who Fear Sharks Should Know,” Project Aware. 

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