Many films and TV shows will tell you that sharks are scary, here to snap up beachgoers. But that’s simply not true. Sharks fill an important niche — or ecological role — in the ocean.
Many of these fish are top predators that control populations of other animals. Other sharks serve as clean-up crews, chowing down on migratory birds when they fall out of the sky. But not all sharks are carnivores. Some, like the whale shark, are peaceful plankton eaters.
As a group, sharks are much, much older than we are. The first shark-like fish appeared more than 400 million years ago. Since then, they’ve taken on a wide variety of forms. Some have sawfish-blade noses, and extinct species may have had big hooks on their heads.
Sharks also have a lot of fascinating talents. They have super-sensitive noses and use snouts full of goo to detect faint electrical signals from their prey. Scientists are even trying to design materials to mimic sharks’ bacteria-battling skin.
Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:
Tiger sharks feast when migratory birds fall out of the sky: Migrating land-based birds that fall from the sky as they cross the Gulf of Mexico can end up in the belly of a young tiger shark. (6/12/2019) Readability: 7.3
Electricity sensor harnesses a shark’s secret weapon: A new “quantum” material mimics the sensors that help a shark sense its prey. Like a shark, it can detect tiny electric fields. (4/17/2018) Readability: 7.3
Snout goo may help sharks sense prey: Scientists may be one step closer to understanding how sharks sense their prey. Pores on their snout and face are lined with a gel that may help relay electrical currents created by prey’s movements. (6/30/2016) Readability: 6.3
Sharks have very big, oily livers. The oil in their livers actually helps them float. That’s because oil is slightly less dense than water. You can test this yourself with a simple experiment, no sharks required. All you need is some oil, balloons, toilet paper tubes and a bathtub.