Welcome back for our final day of Needcoffee’s Shark Week. Over the past week, we’ve explored many different kinds of sharks, and I would like to think that learning about how varied and wonderful sharks are is more exciting than endless footage of great whites and tiger sharks chomping on things (although a little bit of that is cool, too, because that’s what they do). I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I’m against the Discovery Channel or the real efforts they make to educate people about sharks during Shark Week. I know that they have some very good programs, and partner with marine conservation groups to provide information about shark conservation. It’s only the large number of programs about shark attacks that made me so angry this year.
Why concentrate so much on shark attacks when they are so rare? Is it the same bloodthirsty nature in us humans that once made gladiators and other blood sports so popular? Is there some sort of primal fear in us that likes being piqued from the safety of our living rooms? Regardless, why not try programming a Shark Week with say, only one program about shark attacks. What would be great to see? Maybe a program on the Top 10 Shark Species You’ve Never Heard Of, or a profile of some really weird ones, like the Cookie Cutter Shark. And my ideal Shark Week would have to have at least one program specifically about the importance of shark conservation.
So why are sharks worth having around? All respect and admiration for these animals aside, sharks play an important role in the ecosystem of our oceans. Like lions, wolves, bears, and other predators, they help keep the populations of the animals that make up their food in check, and hopefully like the conservation efforts of these three land predators, the conservation efforts of sharks will become more publicized and active.
Sharks are easily over-fished…
- Most sharks take 6-7 years to become sexually mature (even the early-maturing species take 2-3 years to become capable of reproducing, and whale sharks, for instance, aren’t mature until they’re 30!).
- They also do not reproduce every year, so even though most sharks are relatively long-lived, they simply don’t produce as many offspring as many other species of fish.
- Because of their slow growth and reproductive rates, we are fishing them faster than they can catch up.
And commercial fishing specifically for sharks is not the only danger to them.
- Many sharks are the victim of by-catching, meaning that they were caught by accident in nets meant for other fish.
- Some shark species have also suffered greatly from sport fishing, such as the mako and even the great white. When I was searching for images for this project, it was disturbing how many species I typed in came back with mostly images of sharks strung up from fishing lines.
- The new craze for shark cartilage as a “natural” cure for all kinds of things, including cancer, is a threat to sharks. The evidence that these cartilage pills work is not good, yet people still clamor for them, causing unnecessary fishing.
- The other threat to sharks that comes from humans is water pollution. Like any other fish, sharks are very susceptible to many kinds of pollution in their environment.
But there is hope that we may be able to educate people about responsible fishing and helping to keep pollution out of our oceans. There are many organizations around the world that are involved in shark conservation efforts. There’s not room here to list them all, so here are just a few if you are interested in getting involved:
Save Our Seas is a foundation based in Switzerland whose goal is, according to the site, “to implement and support diverse programmes of education, protection and conservation all around the world.” They are the creators of the short film from Day One of our Shark Week, and they have a podcast as well.
Bite-Back is a UK-based organization that concentrates on educating people and stores about responsible consumption of fish, particularly sharks. Their site states that “with the law of supply and demand at its cornerstone, Bite-Back works together with restaurants, fishmongers and retailers to remove shark products from menus and fish counters, effectively lowering the trade in this threatened species.”
The Ocean Conservancy is another great organization. They are also a major partner of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. They provided a public service announcement to air during the programming every night, as well as other literature and information on their website.
There is a Canadian documentary film being released wide this fall called Sharkwater (There are screenings this summer in select areas). In it, filmmaker Rob Stewart set out to explore the myths about sharks being only a danger to humans. In the course of the film, he exposes the darkest kind of shark fishing practice, finning (in which sharks are caught, hauled up on board a ship, where their fins are cut off and they are thrown helpless and bleeding back into the water to die), and apparently got into some extremely scary situations. Here’s a bit of the synopsis from the site:
In an effort to protect sharks, Stewart teams up with renegade conservationist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Their unbelievable adventure together starts with a battle between the Sea Shepherd and shark poachers in Guatemala, resulting in pirate boat rammings, gunboat chases, mafia espionage, corrupt court systems and attempted murder charges, forcing them to flee for their lives.
Sounds fascinating. I will be seeking it out when it’s released in the fall. If you just can’t wait, check out the trailer on the site. There is also a companion book for the film that has some of the amazing images from the film. Get it here.
There are other things that you can do in your everyday life to help sharks and other marine life:
- Be more attentive to what you wash down the drain. Are you using bleach-based cleaners when vinegar and water would be just as good? There are many cleaning products out there which are much less harmful to our waters (which we also drink, so it’s good for humans as well as marine life)
- Do a little research on the fish that you eat before you head to the store or to a restaurant. Eat fish that are sustainable, rather than ones that are threatened by over-fishing. And by no means is shark-fin soup a good idea.
- Research the laws in your country about fishing, finning, and shark conservation If there are government policies that you don’t like, let your representatives know.
- Don’t buy souvenirs that have come from sharks. I would say that fossilized shark teeth would be the exception to this, since it’s a little to late for Megalodon.
- If you really want to send a message with your money, use it in places where the attraction is live sharks rather than dead ones. Go on a shark-watching expedition in the Caribbean, or just support your local aquarium or marine park.
It would be remiss of me not to mention two of the sites that have been invaluable this week in gathering my information and making sure it was as factual as it could be. Although I got information from many different sources, I would heartily recommend those of the ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research and the Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department. If you want to learn more about sharks, please visit these extremely informative sites. And if you have kids, there’s a great site for them as well: Enchanted Learning’s Zoom Sharks.
Finally, a fascinating video that shows us just how vulnerable some sharks can be. Even to a seemingly benign tank-mate at the aquarium.
That’s right, even sharks can get bullied around by an octopus.