Emily Graslie: For the next few episodes here on "The Brain Scoop," we're devoting our programming to everybody's favorite cartilaginous fishes, the sharks. Why sharks? Well, sharks, historically have received a lot of media attention by networks who aren't always inclined to show their best side. That is, the side that shows their species diversity, ecological importance, and looming threats to their population and distribution.
Sharks are easy to sensationalize and to depict as fearsome, blood-thirsty, maniacal killers out to consume everything in sight. That's not to say they're the most cuddly creatures in the ocean. That award goes to the nudibranchs, but compare the number of times attention is given to shark attacks versus the attention given to their conservation needs, and you'll see what I mean. And frankly, shark attacks are exceedingly rare and largely improbable compared to more statistically likely threats. You are 10 times more likely to be bitten by another person in New York than you are to ever be attacked by a shark. Once you start comparing human fatalities caused by other bizarre events, you can figure that toppling vending machines, pigs, lightning strikes, and coconuts randomly falling from trees cause more injury and deaths every year than attacks by sharks.
Sharks and shark-like predators have dominated at the top of the aquatic food chain for the last 420 million years, and they've survived every known major mass extinction event in the world's history. They've been on our planet three times longer than the dinosaurs reigned, but their time might be coming to an early and completely avoidable end. Despite enduring incredible meteoritic impacts and severe climate fluctuations, the sharks' biggest pressing threat today is caused by humans. Over-fishing, environmental contaminants, and habitat destruction pose a risk to entire oceanic ecosystems.
We move these apex predators and others will take their place, but not without upsetting the finely balanced food chain allowing for other predators with more select diets to create holes in habitats, the consequences of which we may not be able to judge for years to come. But the good news is we can change, and it starts with appreciating these animals and their unique placement within our oceans.
So stay tuned to see more of our five consecutive calendar days focusing on predatory cartilaginous fishes because it's definitely not [bleep] week.There may be small errors in this transcript.