Sharks’ Critical Role in Life on Earth


Sharks existed one million years before humans and survived for 450 million years; now, they are in danger of extinction because of humans and their technological arsenal, in such a relatively short period of time. People usually hunt sharks for their meat and fins, or for medicinal purposes such as their liver oil, and sometimes even for sports.

The mass killing of sharks known as “shark finning” is the practice of catching sharks and slicing their fins off, then throwing them back to the ocean where they definitely die. Shark fin soup has been a popular part of the Chinese cuisine since the late 1300s; it is usually served at weddings and banquets, but it is always a frequent item on the menu of Chinese restaurants all around the world. The demand for shark fin soup has increased greatly; it is estimated that between 100 million and 150 million sharks are killed every year just for their fins. Some species of sharks have reduced over 90% in population for a bowl of soup that has no scientifically proven nutritional value.

Believe it or not, sharks play a very important role in the oceans in a way that an average fish does not. They are at the top of the food chain in virtually every part of every ocean; they tend to eat efficiently, going after the old, sick, or slower fish in a population that they prey upon, keeping that population healthy. Whether you like sharks or not, the frightening reality is sharks play a crucial role in keeping our largest and most important ecosystem on this planet healthy. They are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides one-third of our world with food, produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, removes half of the atmosphere’s anthropogenic carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas), and controls our planet’s temperature and weather.

This means sharks can help prevent climate change; whereas over fishing and shark finning may result in more greenhouse gasses and increased climate change. As such, if sharks were eliminated, the ecosystem loses its balance, resulting in damaging our primary food, water, and air sources; that is, human existence, in part, is dependent upon theirs. People are blinded by misguided fears created by negative media reports on shark attacks; along with lack of knowledge of marine ecosystems, they have resulted in limited public support for marine conservation.

Since sharks are rapidly heading for extinction, humans have to cooperate in saving this important animal to ensure our seas remain in a healthy equilibrium, in order to ensure our own long-term survival on Earth.


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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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