Why Do We Need Sharks?

I love talking with people about sharks. Sharks are fascinating and beautiful to me, portraying the maximum amount of grace, power, and fierceness that the ocean has to offer. These creatures are apex predators, top of the food chain, high-intensity hunters. Although there is debate between paleontologists as to exactly when sharks first evolved, the most agreed-upon time is around 425 million years ago, according to Think about this in perspective. Dinosaurs didn’t appear until around 230 million years ago, and “Homo sapiens, the first modern humans, evolved from their early hominid predecessors between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago.”- To summarize this data, sharks have been here longer than both humans and dinosaurs. They have survived this long, so they must be doing something to contribute to the well-being of the earth. So, what are they contributing?

When I presented at Martin Luther School in Joplin, Missouri, we discussed this, and the simple answer was they help keep our oceans healthy. How do they keep our oceans healthy? Well, think of a filter on a fish tank. “The purpose of the filter on your aquarium is to remove excess food, decaying organic matter, free-floating particulate, dangerous chemicals, and the fish's waste products from the water.”- If these things aren’t cleaned from the water, the fish could get very sick or even die. Sharks are similar to this. They are indeed hunters, but they are also scavengers. White sharks and other species have been observed feasting on the carcasses of dead whales and seals, some of which they did not kill. Another way sharks help keep the oceans clean is keeping the fish and seal populations in check by removing the weak and sick individuals. “As apex predators, sharks play an important role in the ecosystem by maintaining the species below them in the food chain and serving as an indicator for ocean health. They help remove the weak and the sick as well as keeping the balance with competitors helping to ensure species diversity. As predators, they shift their prey’s spatial habitat, which alters the feeding strategy and diets of other species. Through the spatial controls and abundance, sharks indirectly maintain the seagrass and corals reef habitats.”- Another quote comes from a charity foundation that helps to save sharks. "Sharks serve an integral role in marine ecosystems and impact local economies. Whether off the coasts or in international waters, sharks help maintain the balance of species in the ocean."-

We have answered the question of how sharks keep our oceans healthy. However, we may push further in asking, why do we need healthy oceans? I have lived in the state of Missouri for eighteen years, spoke at a school in Missouri, and focus on bringing awareness to Missourians about stopping the fin trade in the United States through How do healthy oceans apply to us? Well, “Oceans generate half of the oxygen we breathe and, at any given moment, they contain more than 97% of the world’s water.”- We all need oxygen, and we all need water. Those are two very essential things to basic survival. They go on to say that “Oceans provide at least a sixth of the animal protein people eat. Living oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce climate change impacts. The diversity and productivity of the world’s oceans is a vital interest for humankind. Our security, our economy, our very survival all require healthy oceans.” - From this data, we see that even people who do not live by the oceans are very much affected by them. We need them for our basic survival, and sharks help to keep them healthy, indirectly aiding in our survival and well-being.

Humans are now at the top of the food chain. We tend to take more than we need, and to give what should not be given. We take more food and resources out of the ocean than we need to survive, and many times we do this in inhumane ways, like shark finning and trawling. We give what should not be given by throwing trash out for nature to decompose, and when nature cannot put back into the earth the monsters of plastic and artificial substances we have created we tend to ignore the consequences. Every piece of trash that is thrown out will end up in the ocean, even if you live in Missouri. Sharks can filter out the natural leftovers in the ocean and keep living organism populations in check, but they cannot filter out and keep in check artificial things man has come up with.

We need sharks to keep the oceans healthy, and we need healthy oceans so we can survive. Sharks have survived this long because they have sustained a healthy ocean for themselves and other species. We need to protect these creatures, and if we do, we are protecting our oceans and our world.

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