Sharks (superorder Selachimorpha) are a type of fish with a full cartilaginous skeleton and a streamlined body. They respire with the use of five to seven gill slits. Sharks have a covering of dermal denticles that protect their skin from damage and parasites and improve fluid dynamics; they also have replaceable teeth. Sharks range in size from the small dwarf lanternshark, Etmopterus perryi, a deep sea species of only 17 centimetres (7 in) in length, to the whale shark, Rhincodon typus, the largest fish, which grows to a length of approximately 12 metres (39 ft) and which, like baleen whales, feeds only on plankton, squid, and small fish through filter feeding. The bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, is the best known of several species to swim in both salt, freshwater and in deltas.
Many other threats to sharks include habitat alteration, damage and loss from coastal developments, pollution and the impact of fisheries on the seabed and prey species.
The practice of shark finning, cutting the fin from a shark and discarding the live animal, attracts much controversy and regulations are being enacted to prevent it from occurring.
A Canadian-made documentary, Sharkwater is raising awareness of the depletion of the world's shark population.
 Shark fishery
A 14-foot (4 m), 544 kg (1200 pound) Tiger shark caught in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu in 1966
An estimate states that, every year, 26 to 73 million (median value is at 38 million) sharks are killed by people in commercial and recreational fishing. In the past, sharks were killed simply for the sport of landing a good fighting fish (such as the shortfin mako sharks). Shark skin is covered with dermal denticles, which are similar to tiny teeth, and was used for purposes similar to sandpaper. Other sharks are hunted for food (Atlantic thresher, shortfin mako and others), and some species for other products.
Sharks are a common seafood in many places around the world, including Japan and Australia. In the Australian State of Victoria shark is the most commonly used fish in fish and chips, in which fillets are battered and deep-fried or crumbed and grilled and served alongside chips. When served in fish and chip shops, it is called flake. In India small sharks or baby sharks (called sora in Tamil language) are caught by fishermen routinely and are sold in the local markets. Since the flesh is not developed completely it just breaks into powder once boiled and this is then fried in oil and spices (called sora puttu). Even the bones are soft and these can be easily chewed and considered a delicacy in coastal Tamil Nadu. In Iceland, Greenland sharks are fished to produce hákarl or fermented shark, which is widely regarded as a national dish.
Sharks are often killed for shark fin soup: the finning process involves the removal of the fin with a hot metal blade. Fishermen will capture live sharks, fin them, and release the finless animal back into the water. The immobile shark soon dies from suffocation or predators. Despite claims that this practice is rare, it has become a major trade within black markets all over the world with shark fins going at about $220/ lbs. Millions of sharks a year are being illegally poached for their fins and not many governments are enforcing the laws of protecting these apex predators. The dish is considered a status symbol in Asian countries, and is considered healthy and full of nutrients, with some even claiming they prevent cancer and other ailments. There is no scientific proof that supports these claims; at least one study has shown shark cartilage of no value in cancer treatment. The shark fin trade is a major problem and has gained international controversy.
Sharks are also killed for their meat. Conservationists have campaigned for changes in the law to make finning illegal in the U.S. The meat of dogfishes, smoothhounds, catsharks, makos, porbeagle and also skates and rays are in high demand by European consumers. However, the U.S. FDA lists sharks as one of four fish (with swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish,) that children and women who are or may be pregnant should refrain from eating. For details see mercury poisoning.
Shark cartilage has been advocated as effective against cancer and for treatment of osteoarthritis. (This is because many people believe that sharks cannot get cancer and that taking it will prevent people from getting these diseases, which is untrue.) However, a trial by Mayo Clinic found no effect in advanced cancer patients.
Sharks generally reach sexual maturity slowly and produce very few offspring in comparison to other fish that are harvested. This has caused concern among biologists regarding the increase in effort applied to catching sharks over time, and many species are considered to be threatened.
Some organizations, such as the Shark Trust, campaign to limit shark fishing. According to Seafood Watch, sharks are currently on the list of fish that American consumers, who are sustainability minded, should avoid.
Sharks in mythology
Sharks figure prominently in the Hawaiian mythology. There are stories of shark men who have shark jaws on their back. They could change form between shark and human at any time they desired. A common theme in the stories was that the shark men would warn beach-goers that sharks were in the waters. The beach-goers would laugh and ignore the warnings and go swimming, subsequently being eaten by the same shark man who warned them not to enter the water.
Hawaiian mythology also contained many shark gods. Some families' Aumakua, or deified ancestor guardians, were sharks who protected family members.
- Kamohoali'i - The best known and revered of the shark gods, he was the older and favoured brother of Pele, and helped and journeyed with her to Hawaii. He was able to take on all human and fish forms. A summit cliff on the crater of Kilauea is considered to be one of his most sacred spots. At one point he had a heiau (temple or shrine) dedicated to him on every piece of land that jutted into the ocean on the island of Moloka'i.
- Ka'ahupahau - This goddess was born human, with her defining characteristic being her red hair. She was later transformed into shark form and was believed to protect the people who lived on O'ahu from sharks. She was also believed to live near Pearl Harbor.
- Kaholia Kane - This was the shark god of the ali'i Kalaniopu'u and he was believed to live in a cave at Puhi, Kaua'i.
- Kane'ae - The shark goddess who transformed into a human in order to experience the joy of dancing.
- Kane'apua - Most commonly, he was the brother of Pele and Kamohoali'i. He was a trickster god who performed many heroic feats, including the calming of two legendary colliding hills that destroyed canoes trying to pass between.
- Kawelomahamahai'a - Another human, he was transformed into a shark.
- Keali'ikau 'o Ka'u - He was the cousin of Pele and son of Kua. He was called the protector of the Ka'u people. He had an affair with a human girl, who gave birth to a helpful green shark.
- Kua - This was the main shark god of the people of Ka'u, and believed to be their ancestor.
- Kuhaimoana - He was the brother of Pele and lived in the Ka'ula islet. He was said to be 30 fathoms (55 m) long and was the husband of Ka'ahupahau.
- Kauhuhu - He was a fierce king shark that lived in a cave in Kipahulu on the island of Maui. He sometimes moved to another cave on the windward side of island of Moloka'i.
- Kane-i-kokala - A kind shark god that saved shipwrecked people by taking them to shore. The people who worshipped him feared to eat, touch or cross the smoke of the kokala, his sacred fish.
In other Pacific Ocean cultures, Dakuwanga was a shark god who was the eater of lost souls.
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