Introductionshark, member of a group of almost exclusively marine and predaceous fishes. There are about 250 species of sharks, ranging from the 2-ft (60-cm) pygmy shark to 50-ft (15-m) giants. They are found in all seas, but are most abundant in warm waters. Some may enter large rivers, and one ferocious freshwater species lives in Lake Nicaragua. Most are predatory, but the largest species, the whale shark and the basking shark, are harmless plankton eaters. Dogfish is the name for members of several families of small sharks; these should not be confused with the bony dogfishes of the mud minnow and bowfin families. See also hammerhead shark and thresher shark.
Shark meat is nutritious and is used for human food. In Asian cuisines a prized gelatinous soup is made from the fins of certain species; many of the millions of sharks landed annually are taken just for the fins, and finning is now believed to threaten such species. The flesh is also sold for poultry feed, and shark oils are used in industry; shark-liver oil was formerly used as a source of vitamin A. The rough skin is used as a sandpaper called shagreen, and tanned sharkskin is a durable leather.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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