The Great White Shark is a living monster few people wish to encounter while out at sea. Despite the Hollywood fueled man-killing connotations that go along with the shark, the truth is that humans are shark-killers and have now pushed the Great White onto the endangered species list. The Great White Shark may not be the friendliest fish in the sea but it plays a crucial role in controlling marine ecosystems and would truly be missed if it were gone.
According to Marine Biologist Dr. Ronald O’Dor at the Census of Marine Life:
“Some people say I don’t care, they [Sharks] eat people, but I think we have to give them a little space to live in.”
The “Jaws” fueled anti-shark propaganda has made the shark an unpopular and frightening underwater nightmare. This week, from July 31st to August 4th is Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, which will give the shark publicity but will it help provide the shark with much needed protection?
The Great White Shark lives in almost all coastal areas, including the East and West coasts of the United States, Hawaii, Australia, South America and more. It is estimated that there are less than 3,500 Great White Sharks in the oceans today, which is a frightening statistic for marine biologist.
Keystone species are cornerstones for the ecosystems in which they live; the Great White Shark is the keystone of many marine ecosystems throughout the world. If the Great White were to go completely extinct the results would be dramatic including the death of coral and an unnatural inflation of the populations of other predatory fish, which the Great White helps keep in check. Commercial fishing would be greatly affected by this apex-predator shift, as smaller fishable fish would begin to disappear due to overhunting by newly inflated predator fish populations. Scientists are already witnessing evidence of this in several areas such as along the Atlantic Coast of the United States where stingrays and other small predatory fish have taken over. As a result of the shark absence fishermen are noting lack of shellfish.
Science journal writer Julia Baum said: “Large sharks have been functionally eliminated from the east coast of the U.S., meaning that they can no longer perform their ecosystem role as top predators…. Our study provides evidence that the loss of great sharks triggers changes that cascade throughout coastal food webs,”
Professor Charles Peterson from the Institute of Marine Scientist is in agreement with Julia Baum when speculating: “Increased predation by cownose rays also may inhibit recovery of oysters and clams from the effects of overexploitation, disease, habitat destruction, and pollution, which already have depressed these species,” In other words, if the Great White Shark doesn’t limit the population of the cownose rays then the rays will overhunt oysters and clams which, amongst other things, will affect the fishing economies that depend on them.
The loss in shark populations can be attributed to a booming practice of shark fishing known as “Shark Finning”, click here to lean more about Shark Finning, and Shark Fin Soup, which is the delicacy motivating the hunting crusades.
The Great White Shark gets it’s name from it’s massive size and white underbelly. Great White’s can live for over 30 years, scientist do not know exactly how much longer than that they can live as they have never been able to track a natural born shark (not in captivity) throughout it’s entire life-cycle. Great White’s can grow up to 20 feet and weigh roughly 5,000 pounds. The largest Great White caught and measured was 19.7 feet, but many shark enthusiasts are adamant that there are bigger ones out there.
Megalodon is an ancient relative to the Great White. Megalodon lived in the Cenozoic Era that spanned over 14 million years, beginning just 2 million years ago. The only (known) difference in the anatomy of Megalodon to the Great White is size. The Megalodon’s length is roughly estimated to be between 40 and 80 feet, so it could have been quadruple the size of a 20 foot Great White. Megalodon weighing about 48 tons would trump the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. As one site claims, Megalodon “Probably dined on whales”. (Fossil Facts and Finds) Although it is suspected that the Megalodon would have resembled the Great White Shark, sharks have no bones, only cartilage, so the only fossilized remains of Megalodon are it’s massive teeth.
Great White Sharks are attributed to being “Dumpsters of the Sea” as they eat anything and everything from license plates, to other sharks, seals, stingrays, dolphins, whales, sea turtles, birds, and everything in-between. Sharks take on their prey by force, coming up at them from below in a leap of vicious power. Watch the video below to see a Great White Shark in action.
Even in the womb sharks express their viciousness in acts of intrauterine-cannibalism, which means stronger sharks will consume the weaker ones inside of their mothers before they are even born.
It may not seem like people should want sharks around, but as monstrous as they are, they are a necessary force of nature keeping other marine elements in balance.
Check out other Community shark articles in celebration of Discoveries Shark Week: