Sharks have existed for more than 450 million years and are one of the only animals to have survived the 5 mass extinctions. Through their evolution, they have shaped our oceans into the rich and vibrant habitats we know today. Yet, despite this, sharks remain one of the most misunderstood species on the planet.
Like lions, tigers and orcas, many sharks are apex predators. Apex predators are animals that are at the top of the food chain in their environment. As efficient hunters, many target dead, sick and injured prey, keeping the ocean and fish populations healthy. Sharks have effectively the ‘doctors of the ocean’.
Sharks play a vital role in the marine ecosystem, keeping the food chain in check by regulating prey species and helping to ensure that none are able to harm the habitat around them. For example, if sharks were removed from the marine ecosystem, the oxygen-producing capabilities of phytoplankton may be severely affected as there would be no predators around to keep the animals that feed on plankton in check. Approximately 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean – if sharks continue to be hunted to extinction, humanities very survival is at risk.
Sharks are not only apex predators, they are keystone species. Keystone species are animals that hold a critical role within their ecosystem, meaning that if sharks were removed from the marine ecosystem, it would cease to exist as we know it today. Sharks are incredibly important to the health of the ocean, so much that the effects of their removal are still inconceivable.
Photo: Michael Muller