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The Importance of Sharks To Our Ocean & Our Own Environment

Added July 7, 2015, Under: Environment, How To

Under the waves circle two great white sharks.

Again and again, the media manage to feed the fear of sharks to their readers, their listeners and their viewers.

I have written about Feeding the Fears in an earlier guest post but the subject of sharks was not one of the fears I cited – well there are so many other examples of course.

Why we need to move away from being anti-shark

Oliver Duff and editor of “The i Newspaper” in the UK, has written an editorial on why we want more sharks in our waters (and not less).

He says: “We’re killing one hundred million sharks a year, that is eleven thousand an hour, mostly for Chinese soup bowls.”

Why are sharks so important?

The killing of so many millions of sharks is is devastating ocean life.

Oliver tells us: “Sharks are “keystone” species in marine ecosystems, the apex predators that stop creatures in the middle of the food chain from wildly proliferating and destroying the fish stocks we rely on for food. They also eliminate the sickest and weakest fish, strengthening the gene pool.

He adds: “Of more than five hundred shark species, only a handful ever threaten humans, and then only occasionally.”

Why are sharks hunted so ruthlessly?

Humans kill 100 million sharks a year – but for what reasons?

  • top of the list are shark fins for a bowl of soup.
  • shark teeth for jewelry.
  • shark jaws for tourist souvenirs.
  • shark skin for leather wallets/belts.
  • shark cartilage capsules and powders for “medicinal” cures.
  • shark liver oil for cosmetics and skin care products.

100 million sharks are killed each year-by long lines, by “sport” fishermen, by getting caught in nets or other fishing gear, or by a barbaric practice known as shark finning.  This means that hooked sharks are hauled onto boats and their fins are sliced off while they are still alive. These helpless animals are then tossed back into the ocean where, unable to swim without their fins, they sink towards the bottom and die a slow death.

Are we facing an empty ocean in the future?

The South African free diver and conservationist, Hanli Prinsloo, has recently come out and said:

At a time when people are going bananas over shark encounters, let us think of something much scarier – an empty ocean”.

When recently diving for eight hours at a shark hot spot in the Red Sea, she was shocked to find not a single shark.  And this was in an area renowned for its white-tip sharks.

With 90% of the world’s large shark populations already wiped out, sharks are being depleted faster than they can reproduce. Sharks have shaped marine life in the oceans for over four hundred million years and are essential to the health of the planet, and ultimately to the survival of mankind. Sharks are long-lived, mature late and produce few young. This makes them especially vulnerable to exploitation. Without them, the entire food chain can be affected, negatively impacting the entire ecosystem.

The simple fact is that sharks are endangered because of human activities.  These are apex predators (at the top of the food chain) and they  play a vital role in the health of the oceans.

What can the public do?

  • Don’t fall for the anti-shark propaganda that is rife in the media.
  • Support those organizations that help protect marine life. For example Endangered Species International or the Sea Shepherds  who patrol marine protected areas, exposing the corruption that drives the multi-billion dollar shark industry and directly intervening to stop the brutal slaughter of sharks.
  • Petition Governments (and nonprofit organizations) in a bid to protect at least twelve per cent of the world’s oceans within ten years.
  • Support calls to Governments to improve the monitoring of fisheries taking sharks – and to set new limits on shark fishing.

And of course, spread the word so as to increase public awareness at all levels.

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