As Shark Week comes to an end, it doesn’t mean we need to forget about these apex predators from the next 51 weeks. This year was another glorious year of Great Whites breaching the waters of South Africa, documentaries about predators of the deep, and the latest in shark research and conservation efforts around the globe. Both Educational and awe-inspiring footage had a nation on the edge of their seats mesmerizes by these magnificent animals, but how much do you really know about the impacts that we have on them and shark conservation?
While information is easily accessed at our finger tips, we don’t always use it to stay aware of what is going on in the natural worlds. There are roughly 100 million sharks killed every year. This is due to the large demand for shark products and the huge value of their fin for shark fin soup, a delicacy in some countries. Sharks are culled and barbarically killed for their fin. Fishermen will catch the shark, cut off the prized fin, and then throw the shark back into the ocean to bleed to death.
These practices coupled to the large numbers of sharks killed in by-catch by over fishing have caused shark populations to decline over the years. Of all of the known cartilaginous fish species (sharks and rays), 50% of these species are on the IUCN list of threatened or near threatened animals. Shark populations have declined by 70% or more across their ranges.
Coastal development, pollution and the change in ocean temperatures have also reduced shark populations. Coastal development reduces shark habitats by increasing pollution and degrading their environmental surroundings. Pollution affects both their habitat and their biology. Pollutants cause acidification of the ocean which messes with the pH having subsequent effects on a plethora of organisms. Global warming also contributes to ocean acidification by the incorporation of greenhouse gasses into ocean waters in the form of carbonic acid. Pollutants also pose a threat to shark physiology as toxins from the release of pollutants such as mercury, insecticides such as DDT, pharmaceuticals, and Organochlorides. Sharks acquire high levels of these toxins from bioaccumulation from eating prey that also contain these toxins. In addition to pollutants, shark populations have also declined from illness and death due to plastic pollution and fishing gear that was just thrown into the ocean instead of being disposed of properly.
Sharks are thought of as mean predators not worth saving. While it is not their intention to give sharks a bad name, the onset of Hollywood shark films beginning with Sharks leading to even Sharknado, have given sharks a negative perception of man eating machines. The reality is that majority of the reported shark attacks are a case of mistaken identity. The human was exhibiting behavior a boogie board or surf board that mimics the behavior and distorted shape of the shark’s prey. The reality is that sharks are a vital part of the ocean. As apex predators they have a key role in maintaining healthy fish populations, cleaning the ocean of dead carcasses, and even living in symbiosis with fish that make it their life long job to help keep the shark clean. Without, sharks, the ocean becomes unbalanced.
Conservation efforts are ongoing to protect sharks and other animals that call the ocean home. There are programs tracking the movement of sharks to learn more about their biology and migration patterns. We learn more about the biology of sharks from research at local aquariums. There are also many education programs that explain how these animals are an essential part of the ocean ecosystems. You can learn more about sharks and educate other on them and ongoing conservation efforts. You can even write to your local, state, and federal governments. You can donate and volunteer with shark conservation organizations, shark research programs, and zoos, and aquariums. We can be their biggest advocates and use social media to educate others about sharks and spread conservation ideas. If you ever see these animals being abused even if you’re just on vacation, speak out and contact the proper authorities, as many of these species are protected under local marine species protection ordinances. Be sure to write down key information to help authorities identify the individuals and recall exactly what happened.
We can also protect sharks by never ever use any shark product, such as oils, fins, and meat. These products can be found in beauty and nutrition products., The only exception might be shark teeth as sharks are always making teeth and lose teeth throughout their life. Shark teeth can be found on the ocean floor and beaches. Reducing seafood consumption of commercially fished seafood. If you like seafood, switch to fish that cone from sustainable practices such as fish farms. If you do like to go fishing, make sure you properly dispose of fishing gear and clip fishing line as close to the hook as possible if you catch a shark before you release it back into the ocean. As always, the less waste we produce reduces the risk of that waste making it to the ocean and other environments. By Reusing, reducing, and recycling, we can reduce the amount of trash and plastics thrown away, thus reducing the potential threats to marine species. By being active animal advocates and monitoring our actions, we can keep shark week going all year.