Sharks capture their share of human fascination. These living fossils of the seas possess an amazing range of characteristics. The belief that sharks die if they stop swimming is almost common knowledge, but it is not entirely accurate. Sharks in the oceans are not in constant motion, so how do sharks breathe?
Oxygen concentration in water is much lower than oxygen concentration in air. Animals with gills developed structural and behavioral methods to absorb as much oxygen as possible from the water around them. Sharks evolved very effective breathing methods that are perfectly suited to their surroundings.
Sharks, like all fish, breathe through gills. Gills are respiratory organs performing the same function as lungs in land animals. A shark's gills contain hundreds of feathery filaments with thousands of lamellae per filament. Lamellae contain tiny blood vessels or capillaries. Capillaries absorb oxygen from water and release carbon dioxide. Human lungs contain capillaries for the same purpose. Sharks absorb 80% of the 1% oxygen concentration in water. Human lungs absorb a meager 25% of the 21% oxygen concentration in air.
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