Updated: Jun 18, 2021
Author: Ellie Livitsanou
Editor: Cynthia Zhang
Artist: Nicole Wang
Outliving most species—even dinosaurs—scientists have found their fossil records dating back 400 million years. Can you guess which animal I'm talking about? Yes, sharks! Those big, scary, people-eating aquatic animals. It turns out that contrary to our biggest fears, we aren’t part of their diet. In fact, only about a dozen out of the 500 species of sharks have ever been documented to attack humans.
Sharks fall into the subclass of fish called Elasmobranchii, together with rays and skates. Animals in the Elasmobranchii category have a skeleton made from cartilage, and 5-7 gill flaps on each side of their heads, used to filter out the oxygen from the water. Sharks are majestic animals that help maintain the balance of the food chain. Without them, we’d have a massive fish population that would outgrow the ocean. However, scientists have already classified several shark species as vulnerable (oceanic whitetip, smooth hammerhead, and porbeagle) and endangered (white scalloped and great hammerhead). In general, many shark populations are experiencing a sharp decline worldwide. Why?
Sharks are susceptible to exploitation because they take quite a while to fully mature and produce offspring. Meanwhile, shark fishing industries profit from catching sharks to supply restaurants that sell shark meat dishes, such as shark fin soup. However, the issue is that these fisheries overfish sharks to meet customers’ demands. Shark populations are declining because fishers catch them at a faster pace than they can reproduce. Nonetheless, we can take small steps to save these sharks through education and awareness.
“Shark.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund,
“All about Sharks.” Animals, 18 July 2019,