However, despite their position at the top of the food chain, shark populations continue to decline as a result of unsustainable fishing practices and demand from the shark fin trade.
Shark fin ban in NZ!
Restoring the Balance
Sharks are carnivorous and eat fish, including other sharks. Large species may eat seals, turtles and penguins. Some sharks, like the whale shark and the basking shark feed on plankton.
Most fish lay eggs in the water which are then fertilised by the male. But shark eggs are fertilized inside the female's body. In most species, the eggs hatch inside the female and the babies (called pups) are born alive. Some kinds of sharks, like the catshark do lay eggs, ejecting them in flattened cases known as Mermaid's Purses.
A new born shark is able to swim as soon as it is born and is immediately left to fend for itself by the mother.
Did you know?
The fastest shark is the mako shark which has been known to reach 32kph or even faster. It can also leap 6m above the surface of the water.
Most oceanic sharks must keep swimming forwards to force seawater through their open mouths and over their gills to breathe - otherwise they would suffocate.
What are their main threats?
Sharks also die in fishing nets set for other fish (bycatch) and shark meat is popular in many parts of the world. All this means that some species of sharks are now endangered and some are critically endangered.
The increase of development, pollution and over-fishing have also led to the loss of important marine habitats that support shark populations.
What about in New Zealand?
What WWF is doing
Read more about our work to protect sharks and limit the effects of unsustainable fishing here.