Perhaps no other organism has such a diverse array of complex senses to detect prey as sharks do. There are roughly 350 plus species of sharks worldwide and the number increases each year as scientists continue to find new species of sharks as more of the oceans are explored. Amazingly, only 20 percent of sharks grow larger than five feet.
Sharks are not mindless man eating machines as is a common misconception, but are incredibly intelligent and sophisticated thinkers. The most common reason for shark attacks is mistaken identity, as eyesight and taste are typically the last senses they utilize in search for prey.
Sharks more commonly use their amazing sense of smell to find prey by smelling blood in the water a few yards to a quarter mile away. Their brain is almost two-thirds devoted to the sense of smell and their nostrils are de- voted 100 percent to smell. Sharks swim in a zigzag pattern honing in on the trail of the blood.
Sharks can hear extremely well, if the sounds are irregular and low in frequency they can hear them up to a mile away. The most incredible sense used to find prey is a special organ only sharks possess, the Ampullae of Lorenzini. This organ is highly sensitive to the electrical fields all living things produce. When observing a hammerhead shark, it is almost like watching them use a metal detector to find flounder buried beneath the sand.
As incredible and intelligent as these magnificent creatures are, they are extremely vulnerable to over fishing mainly as by-catch of other species. However, the worst attack on sharks from humans is shark finning. This practice involves catching a shark, cutting off all their fins and then throwing the rest of the shark back into the ocean. Without those fins the shark sinks to the bottom and drowns, as the majority of shark species need to continually swim in order have water flowing through their gills to “breathe”. Each year, humans kill an estimated 100 million sharks.
Imagine an ocean without any sharks. If there were no sharks which are apex predators, another creature may adapt to fill its niche in the ecosystem, certain species of fish would disappear, certain crustaceans would disappear and there could be an economic impact from losing valuable species we as humans harvest to eat.
Luckily, each year new fishing regulations are established to help ensure a future for sharks. There are also shark sanctuaries being established around the world. At Lovers Key State Park, our goal is to provide an opportunity for people to discover more about sharks to reduce their fear and inspire conservation of these amazing creatures.
Discover more about Lovers Key State Park. Visit www.floridastateparks.org/loverskey