Mysteries of the Deep: Shark Sex!

July 9, 2015
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Mysteries of the Deep: Shark Sex!

If you own a television or internet machine, you know it’s Shark Week, the biggest event in the history of entertainment. In honor of everyone’s favorite week of TV, we’re getting into the down and dirty of how sharks make more sharks. And maybe learning a thing or two from these mighty carnivorous creatures in the process. Thank you, Discovery Channel, thank you so much.

According to an article from Mashable about expert Juliet Eilperin’s research into sharks, booty between sharks is a brutal affair. There’s a ton of different species of these flesh-eating fish, so it’s hard to come to broad conclusions on the matter, but what’s been observed is pretty scary. Eilperin’s research shows that some female sharks have evolved to be bigger than males, as males get overly aggressive and often bite females to hang on before coitus. That, and sharks have claspers, kind of like a double male member, although only one slips into the cloaca during sexy times.

Watch this Discovery Channel video featuring Luiz Rocha, from the California Academy of Sciences, and you discover there are egg laying and live birthing sharks, making them a varied grouping of creatures. Like a good number of predators, sharks vest more energy in one pup, as opposed to amassing a collection of tiny eggs that are more prone to be eaten.

Also, unlike lots of fish, sharks are internal fertilizers. Plus, some have even evolved to reproduce asexually, and females of certain species can store sperm for up to five years, all of which helps account for how the frightening, big critters have lasted so long on the evolutionary history of the planet. They’re sometimes mammal-like, but far more versatile if you think about the mating habits of the over 400 species discovered.

Of course, Buzzfeed’s gotten in on the shark sex action before, citing Eilperin’s book Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks as well. Apparently, there are species of sharks who partake in oophagy, meaning fetuses gobble each other up in utero. That’s even more brutal than the fact that some female sharks swim to shallow waters and hug the ocean floor to evade male sharks’ double penis claspers.

If you take the positive outlook, though, at least shark pups are born pretty ready for predatory action, the gestation period being lengthy for both oviparous and viviparous sharks. Taking away humanity’s need to anthropomorphize, sharks are simply impressive from an evolutionary standpoint.

Can we learn anything applicable to us from their sex lives, though? Maybe, maybe not. They’re impressively efficient predators with fish brains and a license to eat everything, so even though they fertilize internally, like mammals, they shouldn’t necessarily be one of our role models for safe and ethical sex having. Except, scientists and writers do seem to have empathy for female sharks observed being the subjects of ridiculously rough pre-coitus, so maybe that’s the lesson. That empathy should very well extend to our own kind; sharks seem to have evolved thicker skins and larger size, but human females still have to deal with brutish male behavior without the exterior evolutionary protectors lost in transition to being social animals (that’s how evolution works, right?). We have big brains filled with potential empathy, so we can teach the opposite of the shark example, because their particular brand of mating translates pretty poorly to human society. So, don’t be like carnivorous fang torpedoes;, pretty good advice overall.

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