There are so many things that humans don’t realize about wildlife due to the inaccurate picture society has painted about our animal counterparts. Many people don’t know that pigs and chickens can learn tricks, dolphins have bigger brains than humans do, and animals like orcas and sharks actually have astonishingly long lifespans when left in their natural habitat. In fact, just recently, a study was published in the journal Science, Greenland sharks can live longer than any other known animal advanced enough to have a backbone. They believe that some of the Greenland sharks they studied may have even been as old as 500 years old.
While many people revere animals that live very long, like the tortoise, sharks as a species on whole are not granted such respect. At the hands of humans, 100 million sharks are killed every year, with over 73 million of this number falling victims to the shark fin trade. Sharks also meet their demise due to irresponsible fishing practices and ocean pollution. Although we think of sharks as being the ultimate predator, we’re being faced with the stark reality that these animals will be extinct within our lifetimes if we don’t stand up and take action.
Not all sharks have the potential to live as long as the Greenland shark but consider the fact that through its lifetime, this shark has seen the world’s shark population drop significantly … something that only really started in the past century. It is likely that, circumstances pending, this shark will also witness its fellow species disappear altogether if we do not take action. Failing to do so would not only spell disaster for these ocean predators … but us as well.
Even if we are not able to pinpoint exactly what makes sharks survive for hundreds of years and transfer it to our own lives, sharks already do a tremendous amount of good for us. As apex predators, sharks regulate the health of their ecosystems and play a pivotal role in the fight to halt climate change by managing the level of marine species who consume the oceans’ carbon-storing vegetation.
Clearly, we sharks do a lot more for us than we give them credit for. So, how can we help to ensure the survival of sharks? Well, while raising awareness is definitely a good start, every day you’re met with daily food choices, that have a reach that’s further than you may realize. By leaving fish off your plate, you will be helping to lower the demand for seafood that drives highly destructive fishing methods. It’s a small decision on your part, that will have a big impact for sharks.
Lead image source: Shane Gross/Shutterstock