Why sharks need your help
Jaws has more to fear than humans
It may come as a shock for you to hear that many species of shark are close to extinction. Many may consider this a good thing, fewer dangerous man-killers in the oceans? The media has taught us to fear these creatures, and they are frequently portrayed as bloodthirsty monsters. This makes it uncomfortable to consider putting in any effort to save them sharks from vanishing off the face of the planet. The fact is that a human is more likely to be killed by a lightening strike than by a shark!
In 2008, 4 people worldwide died as the result of a shark bite, while 49 died due to dog bites. In fact only 5% of all shark species have ever been known to attack humans, so the vast majority of are completely harmless to us. Sharks are truly spectacular creatures, and sadly they have become our prey. These creatures are misunderstood and are in dire need of our help.
We are all aware of the damage that humans are wreaking on the planet. It is no surprise to learn that pollution is being dumped in the ocean and is changing it’s very chemistry, temperature and biodiversity. This is happening far too quickly to enable sea life to evolve, and is creating problems that we cannot begin to comprehend.
Sharks are the apex predators of the oceans, they are crucial to keeping marine life in healthy balance. The ocean is our largest and most important ecosystem, and we are throwing it into chaos with the destruction of the shark population. The ocean provides 1/3 of our world with food. It produces tonnes of oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide. It plays a vital role in our climate and atmosphere.
Removing sharks seriously disrupts the balance of this crucial ecosystem. Studies have reported the annihilation of the shellfish industry in waters off the mid-Atlantic for example, due to an increase in their predators (cow-nose rays), who would usually be kept in check by sharks. This pattern is becoming the norm with mid-level predators decimating smaller fish, who play a vital role in cleaning up the coral and other habitats.
It is impossible to accurately calculate the full global implications of losing sharks altogether, but it will involve our levels of oxygen and food supply. The extinction of sharks will change the ocean beyond recognition, as equilibriums are tipped beyond repair.
Sharks are being seriously over-fished at an estimated rate of up to 73 million sharks per year. In some areas their numbers are calculated as being down by a staggering 95%. The species that live on the sea bed are killed by trawlers, which are causing such destruction that the cuts in the ocean floor can clearly be seen by satellites. Open-ocean sharks are often unintentional victims of longlines.
Sharks are particularly vulnerable to overfishing as they reproduce far more slowly than most sea creatures. They only reach sexual maturity after 10 years and produce a relatively small number of offspring. They struggle to recover from the relentless hunting that has become the norm.
Contamination of environment The ocean has become a dumping ground for chemicals and pollution. Toxic chemicals are deposited in gallons either as a result of run-off, accidental spills or outright dumping. These enter the food chain and become increasingly concentrated as they make their way up to the top predator. It should be noted that shark products could actually be poisoning us, as shark flesh contains levels of methyl-mercury so high that a single steak can cause mercury poisoning. This has been linked to infertility, nervous system issues, and birth defects. The mercury also affects the sharks themselves and impairs their ability to reproduce successfully. Additionally scientists have found other neuro-toxins that could be linked to brain diseases in their flesh.
The ocean is also full of plastic, which is gradually decomposing, releasing polymer particles, that are inevitably consumed by ocean animals. These have been found to have a devastating impact on living creatures, causing change in the biological structures and even mutating their DNA.
Sharks rely upon estuaries as safe havens for their young. Unfortunately estuaries around the world are being destroyed not only by pollution and overfishing. They are also being used for urban development, and sold as real estate.
In conjunction with all of these devastating issues, the demand for shark fin is soaring, thus increasing their value exponentially. Fisherman may find it hard to resist sharks that are inadvertently caught on the long lines intended for tuna. The brutal act of ‘sharkfinning’ involves wrenching the shark from the ocean, often after an exhausting duration of hours or dates caught on long lines. Their fins are sliced off with a hot blade, and they are thrown back to the sea alive, where they will suffocate or bleed to death. For creatures that are sentient and intelligent this horror is deplorable.
Shark fins are sold legally throughout the world, and can easily purchased, frozen or dried. They are generally used for soup which is a traditional Chinese delicacy associated with prosperity, honour, and good fortune. Bizarrely shark fins are actually flavourless, and the taste of the soup relies on the stock.
What is being done?
There are no international laws effective in stopping the destruction of these creatures and no international governing bodies assigned to implement or enforce existing local laws. Despite this, tens of thousands of illegally obtained shark fins are being confiscated each year, which has led to multiple arrests. Efforts still need to be made to force thousands of miles of longlines to be pulled in, and the entangled animals released. But more must be done to stop this disaster in it’s tracks and allow the sharks a chance to recover.
There are things that we can do on an individual level to help. Firstly, make sure that you do not inadvertently buy or consume shark products. Simply avoiding shark fin soup is not enough, as their meat is often sneaked into products. Besides the obvious shark steaks, shark teeth or shark leather, you can find shark products in other things including pet supplements, some energy drinks, vitamins and even lipsticks.
If you see any on sale consider speaking to the shop or restaurant regarding their choice. Education is the answer to this calamity, spread the word now that you understand how important they are to our ecosystem. Printed materials, presentations and restaurant campaigns are a reality, and many charities are working hard to raise awareness of the plight of sharks.
When the general population realises the implications of shark extinction then maybe action will be taken to stop this unnecessary slaughter.
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