Sharks: Fact and Fiction

Sharks are one of the most well-known animals in the ocean, but also one of the most misunderstood.

Published July 25, 2017

Sharks have a reputation as the fearsome, aggressive villain of the ocean, but in reality, they’re misunderstood and fascinating animals. By understanding and respecting—not fearing—sharks, we can help protect their dwindling populations, which are vital to balancing the delicate aquatic ecosystems where they live.

In honor of Shark Week, we’re dispelling some of the most common myths about sharks and providing the facts, courtesy of our in-house expert, Alan Henningsen.

blacktip-reef-shark

Myth #1: All sharks are dangerous. Unfortunately, negative shark-human encounters do occur, but are extremely rare. Only a small percentage of the approximately 500 species of sharks have been implicated in an unprovoked attack. 

Myth #2: Sharks only live in the open ocean. Depending on the species, they can be found from polar regions to the tropics, from shallow coastal waters to the deep ocean and in several freshwater environments throughout the world.

Myth #3: Sharks must swim continuously to stay alive. Many species of sharks can rest on the bottom of the ocean floor, ranging from short to extended periods of time. This includes many benthic ambush predators, such as angel sharks.

Myth #4: Sharks don’t get cancer. Sharks do get cancer, including cancers of the cartilage, but it is documented at a low rate. There are claims that because shark skeletons are made from cartilage, and cartilage may have properties that inhibit blood vessel development that is necessary for cancer tumor growth, that sharks are therefore immune to cancer— but this is a myth. 

Myth #5: There are too many sharks in the ocean.
The populations of many shark species have been severely impacted, and have declined up to 90% or more. Reports estimate that 100 million sharks are killed by humans every year for fins, meat, teeth and skin. Sadly, millions of sharks are finned and left to die every year.  

See our sharks in action at aqua.org/live!

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