20 Fascinating (and Reassuring) Facts About Sharks
These predators routinely appear on movie and TV screens as single-minded maneaters—but in real life, they rarely harm humans.
Female sharks have thicker skin
During the mating process, male sharks bite into the female to assume the proper mating position. Male sharks also have sharp spurs on their genitalia to lock in place when mating, according to discovery.com. Due to this unpleasant experience, females have adapted by growing thicker skin for protection.
Some females can reproduce independently
After learning about the aggressive mating process, what female wouldn’t want to do it herself? Well, a few known species of female sharks are able to. This is called asexual reproduction, or parthenogenesis, where “the offspring develops from unfertilized eggs” as stated in discovery.com. This ability to reproduce on their own may prove valuable in the face of a declining shark population, and here’s why we need sharks in our oceans.
There are over 500 different species
With over 500 different species, there are sharks that can fit in your hand and sharks that reach up to 46 feet, according to the Smithsonian. The smallest is the dwarf lantern shark, found in deep waters off the coast of South America, measuring six inches. Coming in at a whopping 46 feet, the “gentle whale shark” said the Smithsonian, has unique patterns.
And they have the funniest names, too
The tasselled wobbegong: the name of an eccentric Ikea carpet or a shark? Well, it’s a bit of both. This species is called the carpet shark because of it’s fringed, coral-looking body. The names of other species will give you a kick, too: goblin, megamouth, Brazilian guitarfish. These sharks and others fall on the list of the 9 weirdest, wildest sharks in the world.
Sharks have electric senses
Like humans have black pupils, sharks too have a black spot on their eye — but their sense is much cooler. This organ allows sharks to sense electromagnetic fields and temperature shifts in the ocean. The upper snout of sharks is filled with a gel-like substance that’s electrically charged and allows sharks to sense their prey’s heartbeat. Asknature.org explains: the gel “conducts electric currents from the water and stimulates the brain, which integrates the signals arriving from different activated receptors to generate a whole ‘picture’ of the external electric field.”
They coexisted with the dinosaurs
Scientists are trying to discover what character trait allowed sharks to surpass the dinosaurs, but fossil evidence shows that sharks have been kickin’ for a long time. About 450 million years, to be exact. It began in the Silurian period when Earth’s climate was warm and sea levels were high, explained by BBC Earth. “Around this time, sharks too appeared, evidenced by the oldest known shark scales found in Siberian deposits.”
Sharks can become mesmerized
When flipped over, sharks go in a trance called tonic immobility. Researches use this tactic when studying sharks in order to get an up-close-and-personal look at them. “When the shark is gently turned on its back, it’s thought to disorientate them, causing them to enter the state,” said the Shark Trust. “The shark’s muscles relax and their breathing becomes deep and rhythmic.”
Humans kill more sharks than sharks kill people
It’s true: Sharks kill about six people per year across the globe, while humans kill between 75 and 100 million sharks. “The math on that is pretty simple,” says Nick Whitney, PhD, senior scientist at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, who first got interested in sharks as a kid in Michigan because the movie version terrified him. Now that he studies them for a living, he’s no longer afraid to swim in the ocean. “I know what lies beneath now, and in some ways, that makes me much more comfortable,” he says. “Then again, if I see a lot of bait fish close to shore and birds actively feeding on them, I know there are probably bigger fish nearby as well, and there are likely to be sharks, too.”
Only three shark species are responsible for most human bites and fatalities
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Whitney says that of the more than 400 species of shark out there, bull sharks, tiger sharks, and white sharks are the most dangerous, but even with those groups, most bites are inspired more by curiosity than animosity. “If any of these three species wanted to kill a human and eat them, it would be easy to do,” he says. “The fact that the vast majority of those bitten even by these three species survive, that’s a good sign it was an investigatory bite.” Whitney has been bitten twice, but says both times he totally deserved it. “Most of the injuries I’ve sustained during shark work have come from other humans or slip-and-fall accidents on the boat.”
The U.S. sees more shark attacks than any other country, but very few fatalities
Most of the bites in the United States happen in Florida, but fatalities are rare. There was only one shark attack fatality in 2018. In 2017, sharks attacked 31 people without provocation (there were other incidents, where the person who got bitten was trying to remove a shark from a fishing line or found some other way to rile it up), but none died. Here are 13 more things you never knew about shark attacks.