Vegetarian sharks, non-lethal research, and friggin’ laser beams: Dear Shark Man, Volume 4

Welcome to Volume #4 of Dear Shark Man, an advice column inspired by a ridiculous e-mail I received. You can send your questions to me via twitter (@WhySharksMatter) or e-mail (WhySharksMatter at gmail).

Dear Shark Man,

I feel more and more guilty about my own meat consumption. I wonder, are there any vegan sharks?

Eager in England

Dear Eager,

There are more than 500 species of sharks, and they range widely in shape, size, habitat, and behavior. However, every single species eats animals. Many eat fish, some eat invertebrates, and few eat mammals and birds, but they all eat animals. Even the filter-feeders like whale sharks are eating zooplankton, which are (tiny) animals.

Bonnethead sharks have been documented with seagrass in their stomachs, which is likely the result of accidentally ingesting seagrass while eating crabs that live among the grass. (Sometimes I fail to pick all the lettuce off of my turkey sandwich and eat it accidentally, that doesn’t mean I’m seeking out lettuce or that lettuce is a major component of my diet). Recent work by Samantha Leigh has shown that bonnetheads may be able to partially digest this seagrass, which is pretty neat. However, that does not make them vegans, or even vegetarians.

Incidentally, a member of an influential marine conservation family whose name rhymes with Mousteau once claimed that there are more than 1,000 species of sharks and most of them are vegetarian, which is…extremely not correct.

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Shark Science Monday: Michelle Heupel discusses the need for lethal shark research

Last spring, we held an ethical debate focusing on a paper called “Science or Slaughter”. The authors claimed that sometimes it is necessary to kill sharks to answer important scientific questions. One of the authors agreed to be interviewed for Shark Science Monday. Enjoy! As always, feel free to ask questions of the interview subject in the comments and I’ll send them her way.

Apologies for the background noise halfway through the interview- this took place during a World Cup game, and you are hearing excitement from people three floors down in the Providence Convention Center. Background noise filters can only do so much, but what Michelle has to say is important and I wanted to include the entire interview.