Man at His Best

Can Michael Phelps Swim Faster Than A Shark?

Plus: five facts you may not know about sharks.

BY editors | Jul 24, 2017 | Film & TV

istock; AFP Photo / Gabriel Bouys

Are you #TeamPhelps or #TeamShark? This week, Discovery Channel (Astro Channel 551) will set to premiere its 29th installment of Shark Week. And to make things exciting, Michael Phelps will go on an interesting race, one with a shark! He’ll also get schooled on everything ‘shark’ at the Bimini Shark Lab. So stay tuned to find out if he’ll come out on top this time.

Michael Phelps and the crew watch a shark approach the cage, which Michael is about to enter.

Did you know that out of 63 species of sharks found in Malaysian waters, only the whale shark is protected under the Fisheries Act 1985? Apart from encounters separated by reinforced aquarium glass, Malaysians’ interaction with sharks mostly extend to either recreational or gastronomical. What many people are unaware of is that these top predators help keep the ecosystem in balance. Here are five more facts about sharks that you might not know about:

Fact #1: Sharks keep the food web in balance

The ocean ecosystem is made up of very intricate food webs. Sharks are at the top of these webs and are considered by scientists to be “keystone” species, meaning that removing them causes the whole structure to collapse. For this reason, the prospect of a food chain minus its apex predators may mean the end of the line for many more species. 

Fact #2: Sharks keep prey populations healthy

Predatory sharks prey on the sick and the weak members of their prey populations, and some also scavenge the sea floor to feed on dead carcasses. By removing the sick and the weak, they prevent the spread of diseases and outbreaks that could be devastating. Preying on the weakest individuals also strengthens the gene pools of the prey species. Since the largest, strongest, and healthiest fish generally reproduce in greater numbers, the outcome is larger numbers of healthier fish.

Fact #3: Sharks keep sea grass bed and other vital habitats healthy

Through intimidation, sharks regulate the behaviour of prey species, and prevent them from overgrazing vital habitats.  Some shark scientists believe that this intimidation factor may actually have more of an impact on the ecosystem than what sharks eat. For example, scientists in Hawaii found that tiger sharks had a positive impact on the health of sea grass beds.  Turtles, which are the tiger sharks’ prey, graze on sea grass. In the absence of tiger sharks, the turtles spend all of their time grazing on the best quality, most nutritious sea grass, and these habitats are consequently destroyed. When tiger sharks are in the area however, turtles graze over a broader area and do not overgraze one region.

Fact #4: We need sharks!

When sharks are eliminated, the marine ecosystem loses its balance. In the parts of the ocean where sharks have been fished out of existence, we can see the dangerous result of removing the top predator from an ecosystem. Sadly, sharks are being killed for their fins for shark fin soup, a delicacy that has assumed cultural value but is in no way important for human survival or health. Hence, hunting for sharks can result in the loss of important foods that are key for our survival. 

Fact #5: Sharks are ancient creatures

Sharks are a living connection to the time of the dinosaurs. Fossilised teeth and scales dating from more than 400 million years ago give us clues about how those ancient ancestors looked. However, what we think of as “modern” sharks appeared around 100 million years ago. The frilled shark, which is rare but still in existence, has evolved very little over the millennia and is considered one of the best examples of what early sharks looked like.

SHARK WEEK will be premiering with two episodes back-to-back on Discovery Channel (Astro Channel 551), starting on Monday, 24 July 2017 at 9pm and will run until Friday, 28 July 2017. Check out the full schedule here.