10 reasons to be grateful for sharks (even though you're scared of them)

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Sharks have roamed the great blue sea for 450 million years. Though most of their time is spent swimming in the depths and searching for ocean prey, stories and movies that feature circling fins and pounding music have instilled fear in even the bravest of human adventurers.

Because we focus on the scary side of these fish, it's easy to forget that sharks actually do a lot of good. Without sharks, the planet itself would be less healthy - and humans would miss out on the cultural and technological innovations sharks have inspired. Here are some of the ways sharks contribute to human survival and happiness.

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Sharks fill a huge role in the food chain

Sharks are apex predators. That means that they are at the top of the ocean's food chain and have a taste for many different aquatic animals, ranging from smaller fish to sea lions. These kings and queens of the sea, however, often go after slow and sick fish. Because of this, the healthiest fish often survive to breed and contribute to a stronger population in the long run, according to Shark Savers.

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Sharks help Earth's carbon cycle

Not to get too deep into the science of things, but sharks also keep Earth's carbon cycle balanced by contributing to the absorption of carbon dioxide. Sharks are large animals, which means they store large amounts of carbon in their bodies. If the total number of sharks in the ocean was reduced, more carbon could be released into the atmosphere, according to Mystic Aquarium.

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Sharks keep the shellfish industry alive

Fun fact: Sharks play an important part in keeping the shellfish industry alive and well. Sharks feast on cow-nose rays. Those rays are a major predator of scallops. Without sharks in our oceans, cow-nose rays would overpopulate and feast on scallops and shellfish - eliminating the two options from our dinner tables.

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Sharks take out a more common enemy

Despite their ominous appearance, sharks rarely pose a threat to humans. In 2018, sharks were responsible for five fatal attacks, according to Forbes. In comparison, box jellyfish are responsible for more deaths than sharks, sea snakes and stingrays combined. There are 20 to 40 jellyfish sting deaths annually in the Philippines alone, Science Magazine reports. Sharks eat box jellyfish and help limit the population of the lethal creature.

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Sharks keep tourist economies thriving

When sharks are promoted as the main attraction of tourism, businesses thrive. Divers are interested in seeing and swimming with live, healthy sharks, and the experience rarely comes cheap. In 2017, the Australian government noted that sharks played a part in $25.5 million (in Australian dollars) worth of activity in the country's regional economies. And that's just in one country -  sharks actually play a key role in drawing tourists to countries around the world.

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Sharks are the future of medicine

Sharks have amazing immune systems, heal quickly from damaging wounds and are resistant to infections. Perhaps the greatest find, though, was that great white sharks have "mutations," according to the BBC, that protect against cancer by repairing damaged genes. Researchers are now studying sharks' unique healing abilities in hopes of finding cures for diseases that humans often battle.

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Sharks create future leaders

Pop culture phenomena like "Shark Week," along with more informative exhibits at museums and aquariums, are increasingly inspiring new generations to pursue careers in fields like marine biology. Sharks have been around for millions of years, making their history and the evolutionary path of their existence a vast field of study with much to discover.

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Sharks help Olympic swimmers

Sharks have pretty cool skin made up of numerous overlapping scales called denticles. The grooves on the denticles align with water flow and contribute to sharks' speedy movements through the ocean water. Thanks to biomimicry, or the design of materials modeled on biological entities, shark skin has been replicated and used for swim trunk designs, USC Illumin noted. In the 2008 Summer Olympics, Michael Phelps wore a sharkskin-inspired swimsuit and won eight gold medals. We're not saying that's the reason Phelps made history, but we're not saying it's not, either.

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Sharks = cinematic gold

Films like "Jaws" and "Sharknado" may not give the aquatic creature a great reputation, but the films wouldn't even exist without sharks. The famous line "You're gonna need a bigger boat" wouldn't be engraved in our memories if it weren't for sharks and  LL Cool J might never have graced the big screen as a hero with a pet parrot if not for "Deep Blue Sea."

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Sharks are just cool

To put it simply, sharks are some of the coolest creatures on this planet. They've been around for 450 million years, remember? That's more than 200 million years before the first dinosaur ever existed. Sharks are a key part of the history of this planet, and the longevity of their existence speaks wonders to the importance of their role in the ocean. If you're looking for some more recent history, you can check out one of these 50 American destinations.

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