The truth about sharks
Often misunderstood, and feared – these incredible creatures of the deep need our help. Currently there are 143 sharks on the endangered list and over fishing – mainly for their fins, destruction of their environment and climate change is putting many at critical risk.
Sharks are vital for the health of our oceans for lots of reasons. As top- and middle-order predators in just about every ocean and river system around the globe, their work in managing fish populations has really important direct and indirect effects on protecting the ocean’s ecosystems.
The good news is we can all do our part to save them!
Explorers caught up with marine biologist, Blake Chapman, to find out what we can do to better appreciate and protect sharks.
What is the number one thing you want everyone to know about sharks?
One of the most important messages I try to get across, and also one of the things I think is coolest about sharks, is that there is no ‘typical’ shark.
In fact, there are more than 500 species of sharks, and they are all different and unique! Each species is perfectly adapted to its needs and environment, and this makes the diversity of sharks really fascinating.
There is a crazy list of strange and bizarre features and characteristics that certain sharks have, like hammers, modified scales around their eyes that are more like ‘teeth’, bioluminescence (which means they glow), pockets, and of course, rows and rows of specialised teeth.
Why do you love them so much?
Sharks are absolutely incredible animals. I first became interested in them when I realised that so much of what we hear about sharks is incorrect, or at least really biased towards the less pleasant things that they are capable of. But there is so much to these animals, and the more we learn about them, the more incredible they become. Sharks are also a super important part of our planet’s aquatic ecosystems, and I love the oceans!
How can we help protect and keep our sharks thriving?
Sharks are currently at risk from a number of things. These include fishing, human-caused changes to their habitat and broader environmental changes, mostly from climate change.
So the main things we as humans need to do to help protect sharks is ensure that fishing activities are done in a way that allows sharks populations to stay strong, and also protect and preserve the environments that are critical to these animals. Although these things might sound simple, they are actually really difficult and complex tasks!
Fortunately, there are also a variety of things that each and every one of us can do to help protect sharks.
The number one thing is to learn about them – investigate all of the little (and big) things that make them fascinating and good. Then talk about what you’ve learned to help others (especially your parents!) to better understand the true nature of sharks and all the things that make these animals special – instead of something to be feared.
We can also all make efforts to help to keep our planet clean by creating less waste and using less of our critical natural resources. While the benefits of these actions to sharks directly may not be obvious, they are definitely there!
What are you working on right now?
I am working on expanding my science communication activities. Like I mentioned earlier, I really believe in the power and importance of talking to people about sharks. I am constantly on the look-out for new ways to try to help people – no matter how old or young they are – to understand sharks better.
Talking to kids about sharks, and our other really cool marine animals, is my favourite, though! I go to schools and libraries, and have lots of great discussions about sharks with the people I meet along the way. I love sharking all of my show-and-tell items, and coming up with fun games to help to demonstrate just how special and important sharks are.
What misconception about sharks would like to right?
That sharks are bad and do the wrong thing. Sharks are predators, and some are very large and very powerful.
Unfortunately, sometimes this has really sad outcomes for people who share the water with sharks. It’s important to remember, though, that biting and eating are important, natural behaviours for sharks. They bite to investigate things they might not fully understand (and also to eat), and just like all other animals, they need to eat to survive!
They don’t do these things because they are bad, or pests, its simply to survive. The same is true for when sharks swim in the water along our coasts. Sometimes people interpret this as an unacceptable, or bad behaviour.
Seeing a shark so close to places where we swim and play can be a bit scary, but sharks aren’t coming close to shore to frighten us, and this isn’t a threatening behaviour. Coastal environments and habitats are really important for many species of sharks. This might be where they find their food, have their babies, or where the water conditions are just right for the sharks’ needs.
We need to understand this, and accept that if we want to use these environments, too, that we have to be willing to share them with sharks, and the other animals that naturally call these environments ‘home’.
You can learn more about Blake and the great work she does by visiting https://www.blakechapmancomms.com
Blake’s new book, Ocean Animals – The Weirdest, Smartest and Sneakiest Sea Creatures is out now and available at all good book stores for $29.99.