Here at Shark OFF, we love sharks; they’re extraordinary animals! If you’ve scrolled through our social media feed (#SharkScienceSaturday), you probably know some wide-ranging facts about sharks of all species. They’re absolutely incredible creatures; athletic, powerful, and fierce (wow, what a great spirit animal). But, did you know that sharks greatly benefit the ocean (and us, too)?!
As an apex predator, the ocean needs sharks to maintain a healthy marine environment. Elliot Norse, chief scientist of the Marine Conservation Institute explains that “apex predators are really important in ecosystems, and when we kill them what we often find is really bad things happen” in an ABC Australia discussion. A large shark population is a great indicator of a healthy marine ecosystem.
This powerful apex predator is also often referred to as a “keystone species” in the ocean. A keystone species is defined as “a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, such that if it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically”. Keystone species keep the ecosystem in balance. Without sharks, many prey species do not become too populous. Also, just the sharks’ presence scares off the prey, keeping them from overgrazing seagrass and other food sources like seaweed and algae. Sharks also greatly help with ensuring the “survival of the fittest”, ridding the ocean environment of the weak and diseased prey, keeping the gene pools strong. Without sharks weeding out the diseased prey, outbreaks can occur, hurting the healthy, stronger members of the species.
Not only do sharks aid in maintaining a healthy marine environment, they also help the rest of the planet here on land. Sharks (along with whales) can store a lot of carbon in their bodies. This helps keep carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere, aiding in slowing global warming. Also, remember that sharks keep prey from overgrazing seagrass beds? Seagrass can hold a lot of carbon! According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, one acre of seagrass can hold 740 pounds of carbon per year, the same amount emitted by a car traveling around 3,860 miles!
Sharks often get a bad rap as being vicious creatures, but they greatly benefit the marine ecosystem, keeping the ocean life regulated and balanced. Beyond that, they aid in keeping our atmosphere cleaner, storing carbon in their bodies. Illegal fishing disrupts the natural balance these apex predators provide in the ocean and beyond. So, protect sharks; they’re protecting the beloved ocean (in addition to being remarkable creatures)!