Save the Sharks

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Ocean Today)

Fuel by sensationalized movies or occasional media new stories of attacks, Sharks are often thought of as mindless predators with an insatiable tendency for attacking humans. Despite their scary reputation, sharks rarely ever attack humans and would much rather feed on fish and marine mammals.

Of the approximately 500 species of shark, only three (Bull, Great White and Tiger Sharks) are involved in unprovoked attacks on humans. On average, sharks kill 5 humans per year globally. Conversely, humans kill 100 million sharks per year. 

Sharks, no matter how frightening they’re portrayed, are vital parts of ecosystems. Situated at the top of the food chain, sharks feed on potentially destructive fish populations. Their intervention stops these populations from exploding and taking over a particular location. You could see them as the ocean’s immune system. Imagine taking away the immune system of all humans. We’d all get sick and struggle to stay alive.

They are essential to the health of the oceans, driving evolution in fish species through predation, regulating fish, squid, pinniped and crustacean populations, and removing diseased and less viable animals from ecosystems.

Eliminating sharks from ocean systems has disastrous effects, including the degradation of coral reefs and the collapse of commercial fisheries. Ecosystems with healthy shark populations actually have higher numbers of fish than those with unnaturally low shark populations; this happens because of the complex way sharks maintain the balance between different species.

 

 

 Rank Shark Species Status
1 Pondicherry Shark

Critically Endangered

2 Ganges Shark Critically Endangered
3 New Guinea River Shark Critically Endangered
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4 Irrawaddy River Shark Critically Endangered
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5 Natal Shyshark Critically Endangered
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6 Daggernose Shark Critically Endangered
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7 Striped Smooth-Hound Shark Critically Endangered
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8 Sawback Angelshark Critically Endangered
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9 Smoothback Angelshark Critically Endangered
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10 Common Angelshark Critically Endangered
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11 Borneo Shark Endangered
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12 Dumb Gulper Shark Endangered
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13 Speartooth Shark Endangered
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14 Whitefin Topeshark Endangered
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15 Honeycomb Izak Shark Endangered
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16 Whitespotted Izak Endangered
17 Broadfin Shark Endangered
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18 Narrownose Smooth Hound Shark Endangered
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19 Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Endangered
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20 Great Hammerhead Shark Endangered
21 Argentine Angel Shark Endangered
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22 Taiwan Angel Shark Endangered
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23 Hidden Angle Shark Endangered
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24 Angular Angle Shark Endangered
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Below are a few well-know shark species classified as Vulnerable.

 Rank Shark Species Status
1 Great White Shark

Vulnerable

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2 Basking Shark Vulnerable
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3 Smoothtooth Blacktip Shark Vulnerable
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4 Whale Shark Vulnerable
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5 Longfin / Shortfin Mako Shark Vulnerable
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Threats to Sharks

Globally, shark populations are being decimated, some species reduced from 90-99% of their original population just a decade ago. It is estimated that the true number of sharks being killed every year could be as high as 273 million with 100 million of this due to shark finning alone

  • Shark culling is a governmental policy to capture and kill sharks in coastal areas with the goal of reducing the number of predators in public beaches and the attacks on swimmers and surfers. Culling can happen via drumlines, shark nets and other methods. 
  • Trophy hunts are shark fishing contests held for professional and amateur fisherman to compete for awards and prizes. They strive to catch the biggest shark or the largest number of sharks. Even “catch and release” contests offer a very slim chance of survival for sharks.
  • Shark meat is popular in many cultures and considered a delicacy and can even be found in grocery stores in the United States..
  • Shark finingthe process of slicing off a sharks’ fins and discarding the rest of the still-living animal into the ocean where it sinks to the bottom and dies a slow painful death, is one of the most detrimental practices to the species. Shark fins are tempting targets for fishermen because they have high monetary and cultural value. Shark fins are used in a popular dish called shark fin soup, associated with privilege and social rank in the Chinese culture. A bowl of soup can cost up to US$100 – but the explosive growth in the Chinese economy means that hundreds of millions of people can now afford this luxury. Many consider it de rigueur at important events such as weddings, birthdays, business banquets and during Chinese New Year celebrations. Shark-fin soup is also popular in traditional Chinese medicine (although research suggests that it contains so much mercury and other toxins it is barely fit for human consumption).
  • Shark byproducts are in high demand and used in the following items: traditional Chinese medicine, energy drinks, pet food, supplements, and vitamins, shark liver oil, shark cartilage powder, shark teeth, shark leather, cosmetics and beauty products.
  • Bycatch refers to the animals fishers catch incidentally while fishing for a different species. For example, if a fishing boat catches shark while fishing for swordfish, the shark is considered to be bycatch. Entanglement  in commercial fishing and aquaculture gear can cause significant injuries to sharks, affecting their ability to swim and feed. Sharks can also be immobilized by fishing gear such as crab and prawn traps, causing them to suffocate and drown. Bycatch is the most frequent threat for sharks, accounting for 66.9 % of shark species reported by the IUCN that are facing conservation threats.
  • Plastics may be ingested by sharks mistakenly while feeding on prey, or may enter their digestive system from inside of prey that has previously fed on plastic. Once ingested, the plastic piles up in the shark's stomach and can then obstruct bowels, preventing sharks from digesting food and leading them to starve to death. It can also give a shark a false sense of being full, leading the shark to eat less and get weaker. That leaves it vulnerable to predators and disease.