Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Little 'Bite' of Shark Conservation

By Mark Bottell

Of all the members of the animal kingdom, the shark is perhaps the one who would come off worst in a popularity contest. Mainly fear-based, prejudices against sharks are widespread and because of this, the very real danger that some species face is often overlooked. Shark conservation projects around the world are working hard to ensure the future for the most endangered species but, with so many other animals also needing rescuing, it is often the cute, furry varieties who receive a higher profile.

But the misunderstood shark is sold a little short; it is in fact a unique and truly fascinating animal with, in many cases, much more reason to fear man than vice versa. Across nearly 400 species of sharks, an incredibly diverse range of habits and quirks have been discovered by scientists and shark conservation workers. Here a few which may just help sway you towards the pro-shark team, and encourage you to help conserve these extraordinary and enigmatic creatures.

No Need for Lullabies

One very interesting fact which sets the shark apart from the norm is that they don't sleep. It was previously believed by shark conservation experts that all sharks needed to be in a constant state of motion, so that oxygen-rich water continually flowed over their gills, allowing them to breathe. Whilst this is true of some species, others have special devices (called spiracles) which force the water across their gills, allowing them to remain stationary. But nonetheless, sharks do not sleep in the sense that we know it. They have periods where they are active and other periods where they are at rest, but as far as an actual bedtime goes, they are the eternal insomniac.

Alms for the Blind

The Greenland Shark, sometimes known as the Arctic shark, seems to have one of the most depressing lives of any sea creature, inhabiting extremely deep and freezing waters beneath the Arctic ice. One of the largest species, the Greenland Shark is however, slower than many of his counterparts. But, not only do these guys live in a constant state of cold, they also live in their own world of darkness. Whilst not physically blind, shark conservation experts have discovered that the Greenland shark is, in effect, totally unable to see. They are plagued by parasites which attach themselves in droves to the corneas of the shark's eyes. Although this does render them unable to see, in fact it helps with their survival, as some experts believe that the parasites attract other smaller fish, which see them as food, and the shark is able to feed off this ready-made home delivery.

The Sixth Sense

Sharks are way more evolved than you would perhaps imagine. No matter how you feel about them, you cannot help but admire their indomitable natural aptitude. Fiercely skillful hunters, they can detect the scent of blood from over two miles away; and not only that, they can detect an amount of blood that is one part to 100 million parts of water. Shark conservation studies have also discovered an intriguing mechanism which allows the shark to hunt in a targeted and lethally effective manner. They have pores in their lower jaws which are able to pick up the electrical impulses of other fish passing by. They are able to determine exactly which direction these impulses are coming from, and veer left or right in order to swiftly locate their prey. This in-built compass allows the shark to not only out-swim, but to outsmart almost any prey within their range.

Mark Bottell is the General Manager for Worldwide Experience, an online tour operator offering extended breaks on shark conservation holidays and various adventurous gap years for adults.

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