The vast waters of The Bahamas team with an amazing array of marine habitats, including coral reefs and mangroves that feature a diversity of dolphins, sharks, and rays as well as sea turtles and manatees.
What is a shark?
Sharks belong to a group of cartilaginous fish called elasmobranches that also include the rays and skates. These ancient creatures have been on the Earth for more than 100 million years and lived during the time of the dinosaurs. An English fisherman discovered and named the shark in 1565. Sharks range in size from a whale shark that can grow over 45 feet long to the diminutive pygmy shark that is less than 8 inches long.
Sharks are fish
Sharks possess the following characteristics:
- Cartilaginous skeleton: Sharks have no bones. Touch the tip of your nose and you will feel cartilage. The cartilage of the shark’s skeleton is hardened by calcium, especially the vertebral column. Red blood cells are produced in the kidneys in an organ called the epigonal.
- Spiracles: Sharks use these round openings behind the eyes to assist with respiration. Water enters the spiracles or mouth and exits through the gill slits.
- Five to seven pairs of gill slits: Look closely on the side of a shark’s head and you will see five to seven pairs of gills slits that are used for respiration.
- Dermal denticles: Derm means skin and dent means teeth. These scales, or “skin teeth,” are composed of the same material as teeth and help streamline and protect the shark.
Shark’s ocean role
Sharks play a vital role in the ocean. They feed on ill and injured animals that helps gene pools and ensures that healthy individuals produce the next generation. Removing sharks disturbs the balance of an ecosystem and negatively affects other species. When sharks were overfished in Australia, the octopus population increased, which dramatically lowered the lobster population.
Perils for sharks
There are many shark species that are threatened with extinction. Out of more than 400 species of sharks, over 100 species have been severely overfished. It is estimated that about 100 million sharks are caught each year. Many have their fins removed and their bodies are thrown back in the water. These fins are used in Asia for shark fin soup. Sharks are also threatened by:
- Entanglement in fishing nets and lines
- Trash ingestion
- Pollution that include oil spills and agricultural and mining runoff
- Bycatch as part of fishing operations
- Climate change
How can you help?
What we are doing
Atlantis Blue Project supported the efforts to protect the more than 40 species of sharks in Bahamian waters from commercial fishing. The Bahamas National Trust, in conjunction with Pew Environmental Group, worked closely with the Bahamian government that signed legislation to protect sharks from commercial fishing in 250,000 square miles of waters in July 2011.