What Are the Characteristics of the Shark Anatomy?

Sylvie Leochko

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Like any other living being, every organ or body part has its own characteristics and functions a certain way to allow the body of a shark to attain its maximal performance at all times. What do you actually call the whole thing? Let me introduce to you the shark anatomy!

Let’s start with the nostrils of the shark which are located underneath its snout. Did you know that contrary to humans, the nostrils of a shark only function is to smell and are not involved whatsoever in the breathing process? The olfactory sense of a shark is so acute that it can smell blood at a distance of 400 meters. Also, two thirds of the brain of the shark is mainly focused on the analysis of various smells. This well-developed sense allows the sharks to smell their next meal and locate it quite easily.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, sharks have excellent eyesight. Like lions, wolves and owls, sharks have a reflective layer located behind the retina that will allow sharks to see well in dim light. As a nocturnal predator, it comes handy for them to locate easily their preys. Why is that? It is simply because the light is reflected twice by a special layer located behind the retina that is called the tapetum lucidum. This peculiar process allows the retina to sample the light twice which then gives extra information to the brain, helping it with its analysis.

There are also microscopic tear drop shaped organs located all over the top of the head of the shark called ampullae of Lorenzini. These organs are hypersensitive to the electric field coming off preys. While they can only be effective at a short distance such as centimeters away, they are so efficient that even without the senses of hearing, sight and smell, sharks would be able to locate their next meal only by using these organs.

The amount of gills slits varies between five and seven in all sharks. These organs are responsible for the breathing process. The water goes in and comes out over the gills while the gases exchange happens on the surface of the gills’ filaments.

The lateral line is made of a pair of tiny fluid-filled canals that crisscross the skull and run along the sides of the shark. This line allows the shark to locate its next meal by sensing the movements and vibrations created by a swimming seal or an injured fish. Even without using any other senses, a shark can find its prey with the sole use of the lateral line.

A shark can have one or two dorsal fins located on their dorsal midline which are called the first and second dorsal fins. Like all fins, they help stabilizing the body of the shark. These ones prevent it from rolling from side to side. The pectoral fins are located on each side of the front part of the body of a shark. Their main purpose is stirring while the shark is swimming.

There is also a pair of pelvic fins which are located on each side of the shark towards the back part of the shark. In males, these are called phallic claspers. One or the other is used to transfer its sperm to a receptive female during copulation. In some species, you will also have the anal fin which is located between the tail and the pelvic fins. It is used as an extra stabilizer.

The tail is in fact a modified set of fins. The top part is called the caudal fin while the bottom part is called the lower lobe. The caudal fin is responsible for the propulsion of the shark. When both upper and lower lobes are of similar sizes, the tail is then called the lunate. The tail is responsible for most of the swimming abilities.

Finally, there are the teeth which represent the main weapon of the shark. They are made of several rows which allow each lost tooth to be replaced within 24 hours by the next one. Each tooth is sharper than a chef’s knife and serrated to cut into the flesh of a prey with ease. While their shapes vary, they all are specialized to feed easily in the preys constituting the elements of their diet. For example, the tiger shark has short hook-shaped teeth used to break the shell of some shellfish that are on their menu while the great white shark has long, triangular, serrated teeth which can dig deep into the flesh and fat of chubby seals or sea lions.

As you can see, the shark anatomy is quite interesting to explore and discover.

My name is Sylvie Leochko. The mystery surrounding sharks has encouraged me to research all about these animals. I soon discovered that the shark anatomy varies from a shark to another as the body of a shark has specific characteristics according to its specie. If you wish to learn more about the shark anatomy, I invite you to visit the main page: http://sharks.findoutnow.org/shark-anatomy.html .


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