By Diana Tarrazo
This week is the Discovery Channel's highly-anticipated Shark Week, which features programs about one of the ocean's top predators. The week's star-studded cast includes the great white and the tiger shark, which are featured in programs with names like The Killing Games,Deadliest Shark and Wrath of a Great White Serial Killer.
In the spirit of Shark Week, we've compiled a list of five lesser-known shark species that are nevertheless important members of our oceans' ecosystems.Photo credit: SolarSeven / Shutterstock
While these skin-crawling names might make you tune in for a night filled with bloodthirsty man-eaters, they're dangerously misleading. The vast majority of sharks don't deserve their bad reputation—of the 400 species of sharks, only a handful pose any real threat to humans. In fact, with more than a third of all shark species at risk of extinction from commercial fishing, bycatch and habitat degradation, sharks are usually the ones who need protection—from us.
In honor of shark week, we've compiled a list of five delightfully strange shark species that prove these amazing creatures should be revered, not feared.
1. Goblin Shark
Goblin shark.Photo credit: Dianne Bray / Museum Victoria
Though it didn't get a casting call for the movie Jaws, the goblin shark may edge out the great white shark thanks to its terrifying jaws. This bizarre shark is widely distributed, swimming in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and its soft, flabby, bubblegum-pink body can reach up to 12 feet in length. It also boasts highly protrusive jaws bursting with needle-sharp teeth meant to trap, not slice. In fact, this is one of the only species of sharks whose teeth are visible even when its mouth is fully closed. When the goblin shark is ready to feed, it inches toward its prey, stopping when its lunch swims just out of reach. Then, the shark makes its killer move,extending its jaw three inches out of its mouth to trap its meal.
Your odds of catching one of these sharks in action, however, are slim. The goblin shark eludes human eyes with its affinity for the deep-sea, swimming at depths of more than 4,265 feet and only rising near the surface at night. There are very few recorded observations of these curious creatures and the bulk of scientific knowledge about these sharks is the result of their accidental capture in fisheries.
2. Dusky Shark
Dusky shark.Photo credit: Richard Ling
Weighing in at around 400 pounds, the dusky shark is one of the largest shark species to call the U.S. Atlantic coast its home. As formidable long-distance swimmers with major wanderlust, the dusky shark's seasonal migrations can take it on sea voyages that can top 2,000 miles. Its strength extends to its jaws, possessing one of the most powerful bites of any shark species. But in spite of their bite, dusky sharks very rarely attack humans.
Before regulations were enacted in 2000 to protect the dusky shark from being intentional capture, U.S. fishermen aggressively hunted the species to satisfy demand for shark fin soup and shark liver oil. While the 2000 ban stopped direct hunting, thousands of dusty sharks are regularly caught as bycatch in commercial bottom longline fishing gear. This fishing method targets fish like tuna, groupers and snappers, but many other species, including dusky sharks, become trapped, too. As a result, the dusky shark population remains very low and the species' recovery is gravely imperiled. Government data suggests that as many as 4,000 dusky sharks are caught and discarded as bycatch each year.
Last year, Earthjustice represented Oceana in suing the federal government to finally put an end to the overfishing of dusky sharks in U.S. waters. In May 2016, Earthjustice secured a major settlement victory: the National Marine Fisheries Service agreed to complete new rulemaking at developing measures to address dusky shark conservation.
3. Longnose Sawshark
Sketch of a longnose sawshark.
True to its name, the longnose sawshark has a long, flat snout protruding from its heads that closely resembles a saw blade flanked with large teeth. Native to waters in southern Australia, these sharks aggressively move their saws from side to side, slashing at unsuspecting pray swimming by.
While this saw makes for a daunting weapon, it is also a highly adapted sensory organ. The shark's snout is covered with specialized cells capable of detecting the small electric fields put out by other fish. When a sawshark detects fish hidden in the sand or mud of the seabed, it can use its saw to dig them out. Thankfully for us humans, these sharks prefer feeding primarily on small fish, squid and crustaceans.
4. Whale Shark
Whale shark.Photo credit: Rich Carey / Shutterstock
Reaching lengths of more than 40 feet (about the size of a school bus), whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea. Contrary to their name, whale sharks are not whales at all—they're sharks. But unlike their carnivorous counterparts, these are filter feeders. They gracefully swim with their mouths open and stretched as wide as five feet filtering tiny plankton and fish eggs out of the water. While their size alone can be alarming, these sharks are docile.
These gentle marine giants gracefully roam tropical seas and are distinguishable from other large marine mammals by the white spots that speckle their brown and gray sides. Much like human fingerprints, spot patterns on whale sharks display uniquely on each individual. This allows scientists and researchers to identify whale sharks based on their spot patterns using computer software originally made for mapping stars.
5. Frilled Shark
Frilled shark.Photo credit: Criton
With a long, serpent-like body and more than 25 rows of razor-sharp teeth, the deep-water frilled shark looks like it has come straight out of a horror movie. The frilled shark's ancestry dates back 80 million years and its prehistoric origins are clearly visible in its primitive shape. Scientists often refer to it as living fossil because it closely resembles species otherwise only known from the fossil record. Nearly all of this rare animal's relatives are long extinct.
Humans rarely catch a glimpse of these shark serpents in their natural habitat—the dark waters up to 5,000 feet below the ocean's surface. Relatively little is known about this species, making it all the more mythical and mysterious.
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By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
Tropical Storm Josephine Also No Threat to Land<p>Meanwhile, the season's record-earliest tenth named storm, Tropical Storm Josephine, was also struggling with high wind shear as it traced out a path over the open ocean.</p><p>At 5 a.m. EDT Saturday, Josephine was located about 310 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, moving west-northwest at 15 mph with top sustained winds at 45 mph. Josephine is expected to bring one to three inches of rain over portions of the northern Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico over the weekend. Josephine will encounter steadily rising wind shear through Monday, peaking at a very high 30 – 35 knots. This high shear is likely to destroy Josephine's circulation by Monday, before the storm can affect any other land areas.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/08/tropical-storm-kyle-forms-unlikely-to-affect-land/" target="_blank">Yale Climate Connections</a>. </em><em></em></p>
By Ute Eberle
In May 2017, shells started washing up along the Ligurian coast in Italy. They were small and purple and belonged to a snail called Janthina pallida that is rarely seen on land. But the snails kept coming — so many that entire stretches of the beach turned pastel.
The Ligurian coast has been swept by snails turning its color pastel.
A World Between Worlds<p>The neuston comprises a multitude of weird and wonderful creatures. </p><p>Many, like the Portuguese man-of-war, which paralyzes its prey with venomous tentacles up to 30 meters long, are colored an electric shade of blue, possibly to protect themselves against the sun's UV rays, or as camouflages against predators.</p><p>There are also by-the-wind sailors, flattish creatures that raise chitin shields from the water like sails; slugs known as sea dragons that cling to the water's surface from below with webbed appendages; barnacles that build bubble rafts as big as dinner plates; and the world's only marine insects, a relation of the pond skater.</p><p>They live "between the worlds" of the sea and sky, as Federico Betti, a marine biologist at the University of Genoa, puts it. From below, predators lurk. From above, the sun burns. Winds and waves toss them about. Depending on the weather, their environment may be warm or cool, salty or less so.</p>
Sea snails can make up the neuston.
Velella velella jellyfish living on the surface of the ocean.<p>But now, they face another — manmade — threat from nets designed to catch trash. A project called <a href="https://theoceancleanup.com/" target="_blank">The Ocean Cleanup</a>, run by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, has raised millions of dollars in donations and sponsorship to deploy long barriers with nets that will drift across the ocean in open loops to sweep up floating garbage. </p>
Collecting With the Current<p>"Plastic could outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050. To us, that future is unacceptable," <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/green-entrepreneur-sets-sights-on-great-pacific-garbage-patch/a-38855785" target="_blank">The Ocean Cleanup</a> declares on its website.</p><p>But Rebecca Helm, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina, and one of the few scientists to study this ecosystem, fears that The Ocean Cleanup's proposal to remove 90% of the plastic trash from the water could also virtually wipe out the neuston.</p><p>One focus of Helm's studies is where these organisms congregate. "There are places that are very, very concentrated and areas of little concentration, and we're trying to figure out why," says Helm.</p><p>One factor is that the neuston floats with ocean currents, and Helm worries that it might collect in the exact same spots as marine plastic pollution. "Our initial data show that regions with high concentrations of plastic are also regions with high concentrations of life."</p>
Waste collection in the Pacific Ocean heralded by The Ocean Cleanup.<p>The Ocean Cleanup says Helm's concerns are based on "misguided assumptions."</p><p>"It's true that neustonic organisms will be trapped in the barriers," says Gerhard Herndl, professor of Aquatic Biology at the University of Vienna and one of project's scientific advisors. "But these organisms have dangerous lives. They're adapted to high losses because they get washed ashore in storms and they have high reproductive rates. If they didn't, they'd already be extinct."</p><p>Helm says they just don't know how quickly these creatures reproduce, and in any case recovering from passing storm is very different from surviving The Ocean Clean Up's systems which could be in place for years.</p>
Communication Breakdown<p>The Ocean Cleanup invited Helm to a symposium on the topic in December, where both sides presented their points of views and didn't seem to find much common ground. Since then, direct communication between them has stopped, says Helm. "They're not interested in talking to me anymore."</p><p>Both sides agree that much is still unknown about the neuston. But one thing that has been established is that most of the oceans' fish spend part of their lifecycle in the neuston. "More than 90% of marine fish species produce floating eggs that persist on the surface until hatching," Betti says.</p><p>The Ocean Cleanup has undertaken one of the few studies into this ecosystem, collecting data on the neuston on the relative abundance of neuston and floating plastic debris in the eastern North Pacific Ocean during a 2019 expedition to the Pacific Garbage Patch, an area where plastic pollution has accumulated on a vast scale. But it is not yet sharing what it has found. The information was being prepared for publication in an as of yet unspecified journal, probably some time next year, an Ocean Cleanup spokesperson said. </p>
Inshore Solution?<p>Helm believes the best way to tackle the marine plastic problem would be to position the barriers closer to land — across river mouths and bays — to catch garbage before it reaches the sea.</p><p>"Stopping the flow of plastic into the ocean is the most cost-effective — and literally effective — way to ensure that it's not entering our environment," she says. </p><p>As for the plastic already floating in open waters, she does not believe it is worth sacrificing parts of neuston and wants to see more research first. </p><p>The Ocean Cleanup has made barriers across rivers a part of its mission. But it is also going ahead with its original vision of pulling trash from the open water. In late 2018, the project deployed a 600-meter, u-shaped prototype net into the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/environment-conservation-plastic-oceans/a-54436603" target="_blank">Great Pacific Garbage Patch</a>. </p><p>The system ran into difficulties, failing to retain plastic as hoped, and needing to be brought shore for repairs and a design upgrade, after which Ocean Cleanup says it gathered haul of plastic that it will recycle and resell to help fund future operations.</p><p>Over the next two years, the project hopes to deploy up to 60 such barriers to collect drifting flotsam. Helm isn't the only one concerned about these plans.</p><p><span></span>"We should think twice about every action we take in the sea," Betti says. "In nature, nothing is as easy as we think, and often, we've done a lot of damage while trying to do a good thing."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/environment-conservation-plastic-oceans/a-54436603" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.<a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2646992655#/" target="_self"></a></em><em></em></p>
By Hope Dickens
Molly Craig's day begins with feeding hungry baby birds at 6 a.m. The birds need to be fed every 15 minutes until 7 at night. If she's not feeding them, other staff at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn, Illinois take turns helping the hungry orphans.
By Douglas Broom
"Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people," said former U.S. president, Franklin Roosevelt.
So the FAO is using Twitter to remind the world of these five hidden benefits of forests.
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