JUST THE FACTS
Are sharks dangerous? Not really. You’re more likely to be hit by lightning than be attacked by a shark.
There are more than 350 species of shark swimming worldwide, but most don’t bother
with humans. Dangerous species found off Canadian coasts include the great white, mako and
oceanic whitetip. But shark attacks are extremely rare in Canada and nobody has ever died
from one. Most shark attacks happen to surfers in Australia and South Africa. Furthermore,
shark attacks are on the decline.
Worldwide shark attacks in 2000: 79
Worldwide shark attacks in 2001: 68
Worldwide shark attacks in 2002: 63
Worldwide shark attacks in 2003: 55
Shark attacks deaths in 2003: 4
There are two possible reasons for the decrease: fewer sharks or fewer people swimming
in shark habitats.
Biggest shark: whale sharks grow to 12 metres.
Biggest Canadian shark: basking sharks reach lengths of nine metres.
Smallest shark: dwarf sharks grow to 25 centimetres.
Fastest swimmer: mako and blue shark swim from 35 km/h to as fast as 100 km/hour! These
sharks can even leap out of the water.
Deepest diver: Portuguese sharks plunge to 2,750-metre depths.
Longest migration: blue sharks can wander 2,000 to 3,000 kilometres during their yearly
migration from New York to Brazil.
Most abundant shark: spiny dogfish shark (which grow to 1.2-1.5 metres).
Most domestic shark: often smaller than 60 centimetres, cookie-cutter sharks can bite perfectly
round chunks of flesh out of whales and dolphins.
Shark with the most wanderlust: bull sharks can swim in both fresh and salt water, and
some venture from the Atlantic Ocean up in to the Mississippi River.
Percentage of brain devoted to smell: 2/3.
Distance that a shark can still smell a drop of blood: 0.4 kilometres.
Eyesight: sharks have excellent eyesight and can see in colour.
When some sharks attack their prey, a "nictitating" membrane descends over the eye for protection.
Unusual senses: Shark can sense low frequency vibrations in the water (like injured prey
thrashing about) and can also detect the electrical impulses from the muscles and heart of
Sharks are at the top of the food chain. Called apex predators, sharks help keep other fish
and some marine mammal populations in balance.
Most sharks eat fish and invertebrates like crabs, but some also prey on seals, sea lions
and even other — albeit smaller — sharks.
Sharks aren’t choosy.The remains of cows, dogs, penguins, reindeer and birds have
also been found in shark stomachs. Researchers have found balloons, tin cans, a wristwatch,
oil filters, a partial suit of armour, parts of a rocking chair and a handbag in the bellies
of adventurous sharks.
LIFE AND REPRODUCTION
Sharks normally live for about 25 to 30 years, although some, like the spiny dogfish, can
reach 100 years.
Sharks give birth three ways: Some lay eggs, make eggs but store them inside until they
hatch, or give birth to live young.
Sharks don’t care for their young after birth, but find safe places like coral reefs
to give birth or lay eggs.
Number of shark young produced at a time: 1 to 100
Gestation period (spiny dogfish): up to 2 years
Sharks have extremely long gestation periods, which make it difficult for diminished shark
populations to replenish quickly.
How to determine the age of a shark: In a similar way to trees, sharks can be aged by counting
growth rings on their vertebra.
Researchers don’t know the exact populations of all sharks, but they do know the numbers
are falling. Thousands of sharks are killed by humans through shark fining (cutting the fins
off a shark for shark-fin soup, then throwing the shark back in the ocean) and by-catch in
the fishery industry.
Percentage decline in the past 15 years of hammerhead, white, and thresher sharks: 75 percent
Percentage decline in the past 15 years of tiger, coastal, blue, porbeagle, and oceanic sharks:
Number of shark species in Canadian waters: more than 20
Main Atlantic species: blue, porbeagle, mako
Main Pacific species: spiny dogfish, sixgill, Pacific sleeper
Main Arctic species: Greenland, Pacific sleeper
SHARKS AND MEDICINE
Shark liver oil was used to make Vitamin A supplements.
Since shark and human corneas are similar, shark corneas have been used in eye surgery.
Shark cartilage is used to make artificial skin for burn victims and as a complementary therapy
by some cancer patients.
Scientists are investigating why sharks appear so resistant to cancer. They want to develop
cancer treatments for humans that copy shark cancer resiliency.