By Ali Dunstan

Florida waters are home to a diverse population of one of the most feared and misunderstood creatures on the planet: sharks. In fact, Florida has one of the highest concentrations of shark populations in the world.

With over 400 known species, sharks have been swimming in our oceans for over 400 million years. Species such as the great hammerhead, tiger, lemon, bull, spinner, sandbar and bonnethead sharks are common off the coasts of Florida.

Sharks are fish that are characterized by their unique skeletons, which are made out of cartilage instead of bone like other fish. This classification of fish are called elasmobranchs and also include rays, skates and sawfish. Sharks are top predators in the ocean and their omnivorous diets can range depending on the species.

Sharks use their gills to filter oxygen from the water and some species, like the great white, must continuously swim in order to stay alive. While the great white shark can infrequently be found in Florida waters, they are not a year-round resident and are typically documented off the eastern coast during winter months.

The largest species, the filter-feeding whale shark, which can reach lengths of almost 60 feet, can also be spotted migrating through our deeper waters seasonally as they head to the Caribbean.

The survival of sharks is crucial to the health of our ocean’s ecosystem. These apex predators are currently facing multiple threats, which range from marine pollution, habitat degradation and commercial overfishing. It is estimated that over 100 million sharks are killed each year from human activities, with a staggering 70 percent decrease in global shark populations occurring in the last 50 years.

Sharks have long been feared as a threat to humans; however, shark-related incidents are extremely rare with under 60 unprovoked attacks reported worldwide in 2020 and an annual global average of under 100 documented incidents. The future of shark conservation is in our hands and their survival is important to the health of our ocean and planet.

This indicator species should not be feared, and they need our help to continue roaming freely in the oceans for generations to come. Take the fin-free pledge and spread the word that shark products should never be sold, purchased or consumed. Together, we can protect these incredible and unique animals and ensure a better future for all of us.

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