The Truth Behind Their Fierce Reputation
By Julia of JFillustrations
Grab the top of your ear, and you’ll understand why sharks are different than many of the fish you find in the ocean. Sharks are cartilaginous fish, which means that, instead of bony skeletons like other fish, their internal skeletal bodies are made up of the same type of the soft and flexible cartilage as on our human ears. Sharks come in all shapes and sizes, the largest being the Whale Shark, a tranquil filter feeder and the largest fish in the sea. Other cartilaginous fish include rays, skates, and chimaeras.
The descriptions “sharp teeth”, “merciless avengers” and “dangerous predators” would probably most often come to one’s mind when thinking of sharks. Through films like JAWS and most recently, Open Water, sharks have gained quite a negative reputation, but the fact remains that sharks have more to fear of humans than we, humans, have to fear from them. Chances are you are likely to never encounter one of the over 450 species of sharks in the ocean. World-wide only about 50 to 100 shark attacks occur every year. Only about 10% of these are fatal. When you compare those numbers to lives lost by bee stings or even car crashes every year, it is a testament of their true nature and amazing sensory capabilities. Most species of sharks will only attack as a result of provocation or by accident while hunting in murky coastal waters. White, Tiger, and Bull sharks are top 3 sharks usually associated with uncommon severe incidents. The bodies of sharks are equipped with specialized senses, ampullae of Lorenzini, which allow them to pick up electrical signals from other animals. They also have a lateral-line system that allows them to detect water movements and have sharp eye vision and excellent smell – much more developed than in humans.
Sharks are killed every year for the meat, fins, liver oil, and skin. They are also killed for their teeth and jaws, which end up in souvenir shops as necklaces and mementos for tourists to buy. Sharks have very slow reproductive capabilities, and because of this, these magnificent animals are being killed faster than they are able to reproduce. Shark finning, a major culprit in the decrease of shark species, is a large and extremely cruel industry, where the fins of a shark are sliced off and the bodies thrown back into the sea while still alive. The end product is a bowl of shark fin soup, which is a delicacy in some countries. It is estimated that 100 to 200 million sharks are killed every year due to finning, which today continues without any monitoring or management on waters world-wide. All sharks are also threatened by fisheries pressures (long-lines, by-catches – indiscriminate deaths while trying to fish other species), habitat destruction, pollution, and believe it or not, prosecution from sports anglers and targeting by recreational fisheries. These factors have led to the collapse of many shark (and ray) species. More specifically, 90% of all shark populations have become extinct, which means they are gone forever.
Scientists warn that within the next few decades, sharks may disappear for good. As top predators and part of the food chain, marine ecosystems depend on sharks to keep the delicate ecological balance that humans also depend on. If sharks disappear, not only will the oceans be in grave trouble but humans will suffer the consequences as well. The same can be said for all species that are in danger of disappearing or that have disappeared due to human-caused impacts.
What can you do to help shark species ?
-Start by further educating yourself on sharks and other ocean issues. Documentaries, such as Sharkwater (www.sharkwater.com), are a great place to start.
-Share your knowledge with friends, family, and co-workers.
-Pledge to never purchase souvenirs that use shark body parts or other marine life, such as shells, sea horses, sea stars, etc. as these creatures most likely experienced the same fate as the sharks.
-You can also write to government officials and decision makers to let them now that you care about these issues and ask them what they are doing to protect sharks, other marine species, and the oceans as a whole.
-Join/Support groups that are fighting for the causes that you care for.
One such group that is working to conserve the oceans and marine animals in need is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS). The SSCS has a campaign that is dedicated to help shark, which can be viewed here: http://www.seashepherd.org/sharks
Apart from information, SSCS features videos with first hand accounts of the effects of human activity on sharks. Actions that SSCS takes to help sharks include, but are not limited to, confiscation of illegally obtained shark fins, which have led to arrests, pulling in longlines, freeing entangled animals, partnering with Special K-9 units provided by the Ecuadorian environmental police to sniff out shark fins, forming a permanent defence in the Galapagos against poachers, and bountiful public materials and education, including the Shark Angels Alliance.
Throughout November, you can support the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society through Team EFA by supporting sellers, which donate a portion of their sales to SSCS. Just search for items tagged “team efa cotm”.
-Lastly, continue to lend your own voice to those without a human voice – if you don’t, who will ?
Ocean: The World’s Last Wilderness Revealed by DK
Endangered Animals by W. Dolder & U. Dolder-Pippke
IUCN Shark Specialist Group:
"Shark Specialist Group Finning Statement."
Sea Shepherd – www.seashepherd.org
Shark Trust – www.sharktrust.org
Save Our Sharks - http://www.saveoursharks.com
The Australian Marine Conservation Society -