Shark Week Series: What Makes Sharks So Special?

Robin Just

A shortfin mako shark, one of the very few warm-blooded fish. (Photo credit: Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries Service)

Great whites, makos, porbeagles, and salmon sharks are among the very few warm-blooded fish. I’m not going to hug them, though, since it makes them more efficient predators. Their ability to thermoregulate makes them more tolerant of cool water and allows their muscles to respond more quickly than their cold-blooded relatives. This is just one of traits that make sharks such a diverse and interesting group of animals. Here are some others:

  • Most sharks don’t have tongues, but they have taste buds lining their mouths and throats
  • Some sharks give birth to live young, but some lay eggs
  • Sharks live in saltwater, but some species are able to spend a significant amount of time in freshwater, and have been found as far inland as Illinois (Illinois!), in the Mississippi River
  • While they do develop cancer (there is a myth that they do not), it is at a much lower rate than other kinds of fish
  • Among the varieties of sharks found in New England waters are basking sharks, spiny dogfish, shortfin makos, blacktip sharks, porbeagle sharks, thresher sharks, sandbar sharks, smooth dogfish, and, of course white sharks

This may seem like a lot of sharks to be swimming around with, but most of them are found much farther offshore than us. A rich diversity of species is a great thing. In ecological terms, diversity can be a sign of the robustness of an ecosystem. If one population is struck down by disease or predation then another can fill the role of top predator. Considering the complexities of species diversity and interactions among them is important when managing the multiple uses of our ocean. This is another great example of why Ecosystem Based Management, one of the core strategies in our National Ocean Policy, is the right tool for the job. Click here to write your Governor today to urge them to support this policy, and healthy oceans for all.

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