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Sharks And The Truth
Separating Fact From Theory
By Jordan P. Niednagel
© - 5/04

Sleek, powerful, and armed with rows of razor-sharp teeth, few creatures today strike more fear into the heart of man than do sharks. Thought of by many as vicious, merciless killers, it has only been until recent decades that light has been shined to dispel many of these false notions. Sadly, however, other notions have yet to either be falsified, or placed into a category of theory, or belief. With a supposed 408 to 360 million year old history, dating back to the Devonian Period, sharks are often referred to as "living fossils," due to the fact that they haven't significantly changed for about 100 million years (Jurassic). We must stop to ask ourselves, "Is this true? What does the fossil record reveal about shark evolution?" But before we delve into these questions, let us introduce you to the shark, the ultimate denizen of the deep.

Written Origin

Where did the name shark come from? Interestingly, its English origins are for the most part unknown. According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

"The word seems to have been introduced by the sailors of Captain (later Sir John) Hawkins' expedition, who brought home a specimen which was exhibited in London in 1569. The source from which they obtained the word has not been ascertained."

The O.E.D., in any case, favors the German term schurk, or schurke, which means a scoundrel or villain. Throughout history, nearly all uses of the word seem to have been derogatory. Truly, one mustn't forget the other name for a lawyer.

There is little wonder, therefore, why sharks have received such a bad wrap.

Written History

From their earliest literary days, sharks have been thought of as mindless (and starving) murderers. In the Halieutica, the second-century Greek poet Oppian wrote:

"And they raved for food with increasing frenzy, being always hungered and never abating the gluttony of their terrible maw; for what food shall be sufficient to fill the void of their belly or enough to satisfy and give respite to their insatiable jaws?"

Jumping to the year 1776, the early British ichthyologist Thomas Pennant wrote in his British Zoology:

"A master of a Guinea ship informed me that a rage of suicide prevailed among his new bought slaves, from a notion the unhappy creatures had, that after death, they should be restored again to their families, friends, and country. To convince them at least that they should not reanimate their bodies, he ordered one of the corpses to be tied by the heels to a rope, and lowered into the sea, and, though it was drawn up again as fast as the united force of the crew could be exerted, yet in that short space the sharks had devoured every part but the feet, which were secured at the end of the cord." [1]

Pennant also had words to say about the great white.

"They are the dread of all sailors in all hot climates, where they constantly attend the ships in expectation of what might drop overboard; a man that has this misfortune inevitably perishes; they have been seen to dart at him, like a gudgeon to a worm."

He went further on to say:

"Unfortunately for mankind, this species is almost universal in both the southern and northern hemispheres. It frequents the seas of Greenland, feeds on holibuts and the greater fish, on seals and young porpesses, and will even attack the little skin boats of the Greenlanders, and bite the person whose lower parts are lodged in it, in two."

Samuel Maunder, nearly a half century after Thomas Pennant (1852), released The Treasury of Natural History, describing sharks in as much of a dim light, if not more so, than those before him.

"They devour with indiscriminating voracity almost every animal substance, whether living or dead. They often follow vessels for the sake of picking up any offal that may be thrown overboard, and, in hot climates especially, man himself becomes a victim to their rapacity. No fish can swim with such velocity as the shark, nor is any so constantly engaged in that exercise; he outstrips the swiftest ships, and plays round them, without exhibiting a symptom of strong exertion or uneasy apprehension; and the depredations he commits on the other inhabitants of the deep are truly formidable." [2]

Suffice to say, the shark was not a particular favorite among most folks of the past. Today, this still may be the case, but more and more people around the world are beginning to learn through various avenues (television, magazines, aquariums, etc) that sharks, though occasionally attacking people, are not really the human-hunters that they once were portrayed as.

About The Shark

There are about 375 species of sharks, with only 27 of them known to attack people or boats. Surprising to some, the largest known sharks are relatively harmless to man, such as the basking and whale shark. The basking can grow to a length of 40 feet (12m), while the whale can reach an astounding 60 feet (18m).[3] Both feed solely on minute plankton and schools of small fish. If either held to a diet like that of the great white, they would be horrifying creatures indeed.

Sharks are incredibly designed to suit their environment. Take, for instance, the mako and thresher sharks that feed near the surface. Streamlined like fighter jets, they are powerful swimmers, able to feed on tuna and marlin that can also swim at incredible speeds. On the other hand, consider some of the bottom-feeding species like the whale shark previously mentioned. With a blunt, stout head, it is a sluggish giant, and seemingly not in any rush to get anywhere.

Sharks are deadly predators, primarily using their acute sense of smell to locate food. Mathematically, they can detect less than one part per million of blood in the water.[4] Like vultures of the sea, they typically have no problem eating a live or dead meal.

Teeth. If there's anything sharks are know for, it's their teeth. Teeth in the jaws of a shark are arranged in rows, though are not attached firmly. Rather, they are imbedded in a fibrous membrane covering the inside of the jaws. Therefore, when a tooth breaks off, it is soon replaced by another moving forward from the next row below. The great white, for instance, typically has two or three functional rows of teeth, with 26 teeth in each row of the upper jaw and 24 in each row of the lower.[5]

Shark Evolution

Few times will you watch a television documentary or read a magazine article without the mention of sharks being the amazing result of millions of years of evolution. They, like a newly released military aircraft, are praised for their complex design. Yet, if you'll notice, the word design is often replaced with another word, so as not to infer that intelligence was behind the creation.

What is the truth? What do we really know about shark evolution?

First off, scientists do confess that the origin of sharks is "obscure," but confidently assert that their geologic record goes back to the Devonian Period, as stated earlier. Sharks, unlike most other animals, do not have bones, but cartilage, and cartilaginous remains do not fossilize well. One structure of the shark, however, does fossilize well. The teeth. Covered with a hard enamel, shark teeth are found all around the world in fairly great numbers.

Because of this fossilization problem, evolutionists have no idea how sharks evolved. The New Encyclopedia Britannica, in fact, states "...the lines of evolution remain to be discovered." Teeth of the megalodon, a large extinct shark that grew to lengths of 60 feet (17m) or more, supposedly lived between 25 to 1.6 million years ago, and yet scientists describe it as a very "modern" shark. And it's not just megalodon teeth that reveal such. Many "ancient" teeth of cartilaginous fishes have been found in the fossil record, revealing that they were "little different from those today." [3]

From the great white to the megalodon, sharks have always been sharks, and modern ones at that.


There is a mindset that we must stop and take the time to unwind. Like a poison, when great expanses of time (i.e. millions of years) are thrown into our minds to play with our vivid imaginations, anything becomes possible. A shark, indeed, could be the result of random chance over long periods of time. A fighter jet, indeed, could be the result of random chance over long periods of time.

Wait a minute...

No, a fighter jet could never evolve from a piece of scrap metal over long periods of time . . . that's impossible . . . that's illogical. One could even begin with a minivan and, given as much time as needed, a fighter jet would still never result. This is clear. "But," some argue, "life is different. Scraps of metal cannot change, but life can." A reply to this is simple. You believe, at some point, life arose from non-life. Therefore, the analogy of a dead scrap of metal evolving into a fighter jet is no different than a dead form of non-life evolving into a shark.

Perhaps then, just maybe, sharks didn't evolve from simple ancestors long ago. More complex than a fighter jet or any other manmade creation of today, perhaps they were designed . . . perhaps they were created.

Something to think about.



1. Monsters of the Sea. The Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut. Richard Ellis. ©1994.
2. Pennant, T. 1812. British Zoology. A New Edition in Four Volumes. Vol. III: Class IV. Reptiles. IV. Fishes. Wilkie & Robinson.
3. Creation Ex Nihilo. "Sharks, Denizens of the Deep," Volume 23 Number 2 March-May 2001.
4. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2005 Reference Library Premium (DVD), article: ‘Shark’.
5. Reefquest Centre For Shark Research, Teeth of the Skin, <>.

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