Known to have a fierce reputation, sharks are one of the most fascinating species to swim in our oceans. We may all have been subject to a specific opinion after watching films such as Jaws, but these underwater giants have much more to offer. Here are five amazing features that make them one of the coolest underwater creatures.
Prepare yourself, because we’re about to make the world’s most-feared swimmer seem cute – that’s right: cute! The smallest species of shark, known as the dwarf lanternshark, grows to be just over the length of a pencil at 8 inches. There’s at least ten different species of sharks whose full lengths are below 12 inches. Adorable, right?
The most common misconception is which shark is the biggest. Thanks to the role in films such as Jaws and Finding Nemo, most would say the great white shark is the largest. But despite what’s shown on the big screen, whale sharks are actually the largest. They can grow up to a lengthy 46 feet – that’s longer than a school bus!
If you think that’s impressive, wait until you find out about the megalodon shark. Also known as the “megatooth” shark, this species of shark was known to reach lengths between 40 and 70 feet. We’ll let that sink in for a minute… Thankfully, there’s nothing to worry about now though, as these sharks have been extinct for many years.
If you want to measure yourself up against the sheer size of some of these sharks, or even compare the size of your hand to the little ones, then you can do it here at Blue Reef Tynemouth’s Summer of Sharks event this summer.
One of the most fin-tastic characteristics of sharks is that they’re known as cartilaginous fish. This means the structure of a shark’s body is built on cartilage (that fleshy, elastic tissue found in our ears and nose), not on bone. This poses as an advantage for sharks, as cartilage is lighter, more flexible, and heals faster than bone.
It’s not because other fishes pick on them, but sharks have extremely thick skin that makes them the tough-guys of the sea. Instead of scales, their skin is covered by dermal denticles that are tiny V-shaped plates. These plates are covered in enamel (similar to teeth) that allows sharks to have such strong skin. Dermal denticles help sharks to swim faster and quieter, and get this for a cool fact: some swimwear designers have even mimicked this onto fabric to help swimmers glide through the water faster. So not only can sharks swim really fast, but they’re also quite the fashion pioneers.
Nothing beats a beautiful smile, and sharks definitely have the teeth for it. In fact, a shark can have more than 20,000 teeth over the course of its lifetime. Known to have an amazingly powerful jaw, sharks can have up to 15 rows of teeth. We bet they need a big toothbrush…!
It must be tiring to be constantly swimming, so we wouldn’t judge sharks for wanting to get a little shut-eye in the depths of the ocean. But, guess what? Sharks don’t actually sleep. In order to keep breathing, sharks must be continuously moving so that their gills can receive oxygen from the water. We’ve heard of sleepwalking, but never sleep-swimming. Parts of a shark’s brain becomes less active, giving the brain a chance to rest whilst they ‘keep on swimming’.
This isn’t the case for all sharks. The likes of Caribbean reef sharks, lemon sharks, and nurse sharks can be found resting on the ocean’s bed. But don’t be fooled, they may look like they’re sleeping but they’re still aware and watching which fishes are swimming by.
Sharks make us humans look quite boring and simplistic with our five senses. Sharks have a lateral line system that detects water movements. The lateral line system is made up of fluid-filled canals under their skin, and these canals vibrate from pressures of ocean waters around them. This helps sharks in navigating around the deep blue sea, but also in finding their prey.
Now, shark powers don’t stop there, because they have the sixth sense of electroreception. This helps sharks to expertly, quietly, and efficiently find their prey. They are gifted by having special pores located on their faces, which can detect electrical movements made by other organisms close by.
Possibly the most amazing thing of all about sharks is that they have been around for more than 400 million years. This means they were here before dinosaurs even walked the Earth! It has been reported that there have been five major mass-extinction events to occur during this time, and guess what? The shark species is still going strong.
It was only 400 years ago that sharks were actually referred to as “sea dogs”. There has been speculation as to where the name “shark” actually originated from. Some say it is from the Mayan word “xoc”, which is pronounced as “shock” and means fish – but this isn’t a theory widely agreed by scientists and historians.
There are more than 440 species of shark today, but many of these haven’t evolved for 150 million years. This is because they haven’t needed to evolve! Sharks have had millions of years’ head-start to perfect their features and traits.
Here at Blue Reef Aquarium Tynemouth we adore these friendly giants and we can’t wait for you to meet them! Got your own crazy or amazing shark fact? Share it with us through Facebook or tweet us @BlueReefT.