Wendy Tucker 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Mention the word “shark” to anyone and they immediately think of a large fin slicing through the water. Whilst we have every reason to give these powerful creatures cautious respect, we must put man’s interaction with sharks into perspective. On any given day millions of people swim safely in the world’s oceans, because most sharks are simply not interested in or even near swimmers, such as Bermuda’s six-gill shark. Conversely, there is evidence that pollution, massive overfishing and the loss of feeding stocks are reducing the population of these sharks. Of the approximate 250 species of sharks, most have five gills; only a few have six or seven gills. Six-gilled sharks (Hexanchus griseus) are a primitive species that resemble their extinct prehistoric ancestors. Since this shark’s habitat is deep, temperate and tropical waters where the temperature is considerably colder than the surface, our swimmers and reef roamers have very little to fear. In fact, this shark was not even known to be in Bermudian waters until world-renowned diver and explorer Teddy Tucker began deep-water research and identified it using a manned submersible and bait traps. Tucker describes the six-gill shark as large, blunt-nosed, with a thick body and long tail. Colors range from chocolate brown to beige, and some have spots or blotches. But in spite of their deep habitat, six-gilled sharks have been caught in gill nets, hook and line traps, and in pelagic and bottom trawls for commercial purposes around the world. Why should we protect them and all sharks? In addition to playing an important, purifying role in the ecological chain, sharks have become significant to medical research. Extracts from their cartilage have been shown to reduce and control certain types of cancer in laboratory tests; shark corneas are also used in human cornea transplants; chondroitin, an extract from shark cartilage, is being tested as an artificial skin for burn victims; and there may well be many more important medical discoveries made from these impressive creatures. Humanity has a lot to gain and learn from sharks. It would be tragic if in one century man accomplished the destruction of a species that has survived and prospered for millions of years.
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