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 Why Sharks Are So Important

Sharks are one of the most important animals on our planet. Though they appear to be frightening, their existence is actually essential to the health of our seas. But throughout the years, human interference has dramatically lessened their numbers. Almost a third of all shark species are endangered. Through overfishing, pollution, and climate change, humans have driven so many species of sharks to near extinction. But humans have the power to help them thrive again.

Sharks have a bad reputation in the media due to films like Jaws and their frightening appearance, but they actually don’t harm humans all that often. Most are not dangerous to humans. You are actually more likely to be killed by a hot dog than a shark!

Sharks are what is called a keystone species, meaning that without them, their entire ecosystem would fail. Sharks are so essential because they eat fish that are predators to smaller fish. These smallest fish on the food chain are important to the health of coral reefs and ocean plant life because they feed on debris. Sharks are a key part of the balance of plant life in the ocean, which is essential to all marine life. If sharks were not in the ecosystem, there would be no small fish to maintain the health of the shallow seas and the system would not be able to survive.

This is why it is so important that we help sharks regain their numbers in the wild. There are several easy ways you can help sharks by making simple changes to your everyday life.

Image shows a Porbeagle Shark swimming near the surface of the ocean.
The Porbeagle Shark, pictured here, is one of the many shark species that are in danger of becoming extinct. Credit: https://oceana.org/blog/fire-and-ice-how-porbeagle-sharks-stay-blazing-fast-frigid-seas/

Don’t Buy Shark Teeth

This one may seem obvious to some, but so many people still don’t realize how harmful that shark tooth necklace is from that gift shop at the beach. Many people think shark teeth in souvenir shops are simply found on the beach and that the animal lost them naturally. This is not the case. Souvenir shark teeth are a by-product of poaching.

When you purchase that shark tooth keychain or necklace, you are creating a demand for another to replace it. This demand drives up the prices, which makes it more lucrative for shark poachers to continue their business. If people came together and agreed to stop supporting this business, there would be no money to be made for the poachers.

A great alternative for shark enthusiasts who still want to own a cool piece of the animal is to buy fossil teeth! Buying fossils is the only way you can be 100% sure that you are buying ethically, since the animal died years before humans even found it. You can even buy fossils from some of the oldest sharks in the world. There are so many places online and in stores where you can buy fossil teeth.

Image shows a pile of fossilized shark teeth.
The fossil teeth shown here are a great alternative to buying live shark tooth specimens. Plus, they look just as cool. Credit: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/are-shark-teeth-fossils-true-fossils/

Don’t Eat Them!

This is another one that seems obvious, but you might be surprised. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in Asia that contributes to the declining numbers of sharks in the wild. Around 100 million sharks are estimated to be killed annually, most for their meat. This affects many different species of sharks.

Even outside of this Asian delicacy, shark meat is popular and might be more places than you think. In the UK, an estimated 90% of fish-and-chips shops were recorded selling endangered shark as their fish. Shark can be sold sneakily as a generic fish under different names like huss, rock, flake, rock salmon, and ocean fillet. Generic names like “whitefish”, commonly used in fish sticks here in the US, often contain shark as well.

This goes beyond your food. Shark meat might be in your pet’s bowl as well, hidden under labels like “ocean fish”. This is especially common in cat food.

But with all of these sneaky terms, how can I be sure my fish isn’t shark? Your best bet is to know the specific type of fish in your food, or even better to not eat it at all! Look for specific species names like salmon or cod and avoid vague terms like white fish or ocean fish. Be sure to check your pet’s food bag as well.

Image shows a plate of fish and chips.
“Fish” and chips, pictured here, might contain shark meat. Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_and_chips

If You Must Have Fish, Buy Pole and Line Fished Varieties

Another big problem for shark populations is by-catch. This refers to sharks that are caught in nets while fishing for different types of fish. These accidental catches are often not even used and simply discarded. Methods of fishing with large amounts of by-catch include longline, trawl, and gillnet fishing. Overfishing is an issue all over the world, and by-catch only increases the damage.


There are very few fisheries who do not catch sharks as bycatch. Some actually catch more sharks than they do their targeted species. So how can you be sure your fish isn’t coming from fisheries that use these methods? The surest way to know you aren’t harming fish species is to not eat them at all, or at least eat less. Even doing a “meatless Monday” is a great way to lessen your impact on sharks and the rest of the planet.

Another method is to buy pole-and-line fished species. You can look for logos like the one below on tuna and other fish varieties. Or you can buy from your local fisherman or even fish yourself! If cutting fish out of your diet isn’t an option, there are always ways to make more sustainable choices for our planet.

Image shows a logo that has a picture of a fisherman with text that reads "Individually caught by pole & line".
Fishing in this way might take more time, but it is worth it for the safety and longevity of our oceans. Credit: https://www.intrafish.com/news


Watch Out For Squalene in Your Beauty Products

Since sharks don’t have swim bladders like bony fish, they have large oily livers that help them control their buoyancy. This liver oil is sold and commonly used in beauty products going by the name of “squalene”. Squalene is commonly harvested from endangered species such as the spiny dogfish. This oil gives beauty products a moisturizing effect, but this compound can easily be derived from plant materials instead.

There are many beauty brands who are pledging to stop the use of squalene in their products. However, it’s a tricky situation as a consumer when some of those brands still test on animals and harm the environment in other ways. Many of these brands use greenwashing techniques to appear more eco-friendly than they actually are. If you absolutely must have squalene in your skincare routine, the one from the brand The Ordinary is both plant-derived and cruelty free.

Image shows a spiny dogfish, a species of shark.
The spiny dogfish, pictured here, is one of the most common species to be used for squalene. Credit: https://www.chesapeakebay.net/discover/field-guide/entry/spiny-dogfish

Watch Out For Shark in Health Supplements

Another common place to find shark derivatives is in supplements. Fish oil is a common supplement taken for its health benefits. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are essential to human health. But unfortunately, it is another place where shark can be used and labeled as another fish. Whale sharks are among some of the many species that end up being used for oil in fish oil supplements.

Be sure to look for specific fish names if you must take a fish oil supplement. These include cod, salmon, mackerel, herring, and others. Look out for some of the vague names mentioned earlier like “white fish”.

Also be sure not to fall for some of the alternative medicine misinformation, like the false claim that sharks don’t get cancer. Some supplement companies use this false idea to sell shark cartilage pills and claim they have health benefits. The reality is that sharks, in fact, do get cancer. Studies in humans and animals prove that shark cartilage does not cure or improve the condition of cancer. There are also no studies that prove shark cartilage improves the immune system, reduces inflammation, reduces bone loss, or really any of the other claims that these companies try to make to sell you their product.

Your best bet is to stay away from any supplement with shark on the label.

Image shows a whale shark, which is gray with white spots, near the surface of the ocean.
Whale sharks, like the one pictured here, have been poached and used in fish oil supplements. Credit: https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/whale-shark

Reduce Your Plastic Waste

One of the biggest contributors of damage to our oceans is plastic waste. An estimated ten million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans each year. Experts say there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2050. Fish, including sharks, become tangled in plastic netting from fishing waste and are killed. Plastic waste consumes their environments and destroys their home.

So what can we do? Single-use plastics are a huge problem for the oceans and our environment as a whole. Try bringing your own cup to Starbucks instead of using their plastics (some locations might even give you a discount for this!) and skip the straw whenever you can. Bring your own bags to the grocery store. Buy local produce to reduce plastic packaging. Put a water filter on your tap water sources at home and stop buying bottled waters. Choose products packaged in cardboard and paper instead of plastic.

If you really sit and think about the many places you use plastic in your everyday life, there are so many things you can eliminate easily!

Image shows the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of ocean entirely taken over by plastic waste.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a location in the Pacific where large amounts of plastic waste have gathered due to ocean currents. If we do not reduce our plastic waste, this island of garbage will only get bigger with time. Credit: https://clsgatorprints.com/1638/features/what-is-the-great-pacific-garbage-patch/

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: In That Order!


A common misconception in environmentalism is that most of our problems can be solved by recycling. While recycling is a good option sometimes, it is not the end-all-be-all of environmentalism. The first two steps in “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” are the ones with the greater environmental impact, especially when it comes to plastics.

By reducing your consumption, you are eliminating the demand for more plastics to be created. This is the most important step to eliminating plastic waste. The most environmentally friendly option is always to use what you have instead of buying new products.

Then, once you have reduced your waste to the smallest amount possible, it’s time to reuse! This can be as simple as using that plastic bag more than once around the house or as complex as something like eco-bricking. Just taking a moment to think before you throw something away makes all the difference when it comes to your impact on the planet.

The reality is that only about 8.7% of plastics are recycled. Once you have reduced and reused all you can, this is your last stop before you hit waste. Recycling plastics can be a little trickier than it seems. For example, paper coffee cups have a plastic lining that can’t be removed except by specific machinery, so they can’t be recycled. There are many different examples like these of items that seem recyclable but actually aren’t. Your best bet is to check your local recycling regulations and if you’re not sure, just look it up before you throw it in the bin!

Image shows a family putting plastic bottles in a recycling bin together.
Teaching the next generation about how to minimize their plastic waste will help make sure our planet gets back on the right track and becomes safer for humans and sharks. Credit: https://learningliftoff.com/family/society-and-culture/teaching-kids-recycling/

Other Ways You Can Help

There are so many different things you can do to help endangered shark species. The ways listed above are easy everyday changes you can make in your life that will help eliminate the demand for shark poaching and protect their environments. You can also sign petitions, call your local government officials, and fight for laws that will protect shark populations. Shark activists are all over, and they are fighting every day for shark poaching to be made illegal, to stop the sale of shark meat and shark products, and for protected areas in our oceans to be deemed safe from fishing.

There is a long way to go if we want shark numbers to increase to what they once were. But humans are responsible for the endangerment of these animals, so it is our responsibility to make sure they can thrive once again. Just by clicking this blog post and being curious about the well-being of sharks, you are on your way to making a difference!

Image shows several sharks swimming in a reef.
This group of sharks might be a scary sight, but bringing them back to their numbers like this is essential to maintaining our oceans. Credit: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/the-importance-of-sharks-you-do-the-math-/


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