Why We Need Shark Research
When comparing sharks and their relatives to other marine organisms on the IUCN Red List, such as grouper, coral, seabirds, marine mammals, and marine turtles, they have an extremely high proportion of species listed as “Data Deficient”. (Polidoro et al., 2008). This meaning that these species listed as Data Deficient do not have enough information on their abundance and distribution to be given a conservation status, such as threatened or endangered. 47% of the 1,046 species of sharks and their relatives are listed as Data Deficient. (Polidoro et al., 2008). Much of the information provided to the IUCN about populations for sharks comes from numbers of animals captured as both bycatch and target fisheries. (Polidoro et al., 2008). Although the plight of sharks is documented much further than in previous years (Fowler et al., 2005), there still needs to be improvement so sharks can receive accurate protection.
Shark Fin Soup
Shark fin soup has been part of Chinese cuisine for centuries. (Rose, 1996). Hong Kong, in particular, is responsible for handling at least half of the global trade of shark fins. (Clarke, 2004). As the trading of shark fins has increased over time so has the concern for the ability of shark populations to keep up with this practice. (Ward & Myers, 2005). Since sharks are apex predators, their strategies for survival, such as reproductive rate, gestation period, etc., have not evolved to deal with high mortality in the same way fish in lower trophic levels have. (Fowler et al., 2005). This puts sharks at a more extreme risk for rapid population decline. Not only are sharks incapable of combating the massive population loss associated with shark finning, it is also a wasteful practice. Shark finning uses approximately 5% of the animal and leaves a fin-less shark incapable of swimming, and therefore breathing, to drown. Culture can change, but the loss of sharks is something that can’t be reversible. Get involved by supporting policies that are anti-finning and share positive messages about sharks.
The Impacts of Removing Sharks From The Ocean
The ecological impacts of eliminating top predators, such as sharks, will cause a cascade of issues down the trophic chain. (Pace et al., 1999). Since the increase in exploitation of sharks for fins and meat (Fowler et al., 2005), the decline of shark populations and its effect on the food chains of the ocean has been a major concern for scientist. One of the many concerns associated with decline in shark populations is the loss of predatory control over mesopredator prey populations. (Crooks & Soule, 1999). A mesopredator is an animal who is predated on but is also a predator. They are typically just below top predators in the food chain or in the middle of the trophic cascade. The regulation of mesopredators, such as rays, skates, and predatory fish, by sharks helps to keep the balance of the ocean ecosystem. By eliminating sharks, there is an increase in mesopredator populations that will cause a domino effect for all the trophic levels below. In order to maintain balance of the ecosystem sharks need to be protected. Spread love for sharks!
Shark Skin and Why it's Awesome!
Shark skin has received notoriety for its ability to reduce drag and enhance the efficiency of locomotion. (Oeffner & Lauder, 2011). The scales, or dermal denticles, of shark skin are placoid in shape. The placoid shape of sharks’ scales allow for the scales to be flattened by the forward movement of water. This creates tiny vortices in the surrounding water and reduces the hydrodynamic drag upon the shark. Body suits have been manufactured with various ridges and dents to induce surface roughness that mimics what scientist believe contributes to the shark’s efficiency of movement. (Castro, 2011). Speedo’s FS II swimsuit, which has material modeled after shark skin, was found to reduce stiff-body drag by 7.7% (Benjanucatra et al., 2002) and 10-15% (Mollendorf et al., 2004) when compared to regular suits. Although many studies have been able to examine the difference in stiff-body drag between materials modeled after sharks and those that are not, it is important to consider the fact that sharks have an undulating movement while swimming, so their scales must account for shifts in position. It is difficult to decouple the effects of thrust and drag force when taking into consideration this fact. (Tytell et al., 2010). Flexible motor flaps with a “shark-like” covering were used in a study to account for swimming body movement. It found that dermal denticles improved swimming performance by an average of 12.3% compared to flaps without the “shark-like” properties. (Oeffner & Lauder, 2011). The study also determined that while in motion, shark scales not only reduce drag, they also increase thrust due to their effect on the location of vortices created by the ridges in the scales. (Oeffner & Lauder, 2011). There is so much we can learn from sharks. Support shark research and conservation so we can gain a better understanding of what makes sharks the jawsome creatures they are!
The Media's Role in People's Perceptions of Sharks
Fear is defined as the emotional state consisting of psychological and psychophysiological responses to a real external threat or danger. Although fear is somewhat of an uncontrollably response, the perception of what one should or should not fear is moldable. With the new age of mass and social media, information is much more accessible to the public than in previous years, but with this there comes an increased responsibility of the viewer to fact check what they are seeing. Within photojournalism media, a major theme overriding the specific issues presented is fear. (Altheide & Snow, 1991). Media has a circular relationship with its viewers regarding fear. For example, media projections of fear in the social environment will encourage viewers to stay indoors, where they may watch more TV, be online more, or on social media more and in turn are exposed to more media which reinforces the fear that made them stay indoors in the first place. (Altheide, 1997). Sharks have been represented as sources of fear within mass media for years. From dramatized news stories and TV programs, to movies, sharks are twisted by media into man-eating monsters, which is far from the truth. Be sure to double check whatever media source you are viewing from for accurate information. Share true facts about sharks and how they are amazing animals that balance the ocean and it is more beneficial to have them than lose them. Slash fear, not fins! Share your posts about shark love to help combat the perceptions that sharks should be feared created by mass media. Mahalo for sharing and #HelpSaveSharks!
Illegal Trade of White Shark Fins
The exploitation of sharks across the globe is and impacts of the loss of these apex predators is an international concern. (Clarke, 2004). Despite conservation measures, fisheries exploiting sharks lack species-specific monitoring which makes management difficult and overexploitation inevitable. (Shivji et al., 2005). The great white shark is the most protected of the sharks in the world. The capture and trade of white sharks is prohibited in South Africa, Namibia, Malta, the US, and Australia. (Compagno, 2002). The white shark is protected under Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and is listed as “vulnerable” under the IUCN Red List. (IUCN, 2004). According to Hong Kong traders, white shark fins are only of value as larger “trophies”, and not as food due to their poor quality of fin needles. (Clarke, 2004). Shivji et al. combined genetic profiling and law enforcement efforts to uncover the illegal trade of white shark fins (small and large) in current, international shark fin trade. Of the 21 fins they did diagnostics on, all had the specific genetic markings indicating their origin from white sharks. Law enforcement officials were able to determine that the fins were harvested between 2001-2003 in an area of the US Atlantic coast where great whites have been protected since 1993. (NMFS, 2001). Of these fins, 18 were from juveniles who most likely were using the Atlantic coast of the US as a nursery area. (Casey & Pratt, 1985). By catching juvenile sharks, fisheries are depleting populations by a greater magnitude because the younger sharks have not had the chance to mature and reproduce. Fisheries and markets need to be held accountable for their products. Be sure to eat from sustainable fisheries and look out for sharks in “disguise” at restaurants.
Sharks in The Souvenir Trade
“Portable memories”, aka souvenirs, such as bivalve/gastropod shells, corals, shark teeth, and other parts of marine species has brought a curio trade into existence as tourists are becoming increasingly important in the economic activity of tropical countries. (Vorlaufer, 1999). Unfortunately, the increased collection of shells and the curio trade have often been identified as a driving force in ecosystem degradation. (Poulsen, 1995). In data collected from stalls in Zanzibar, 20 were found to sell sharks teeth. More than 3400 shark teeth and more than 110 shark jaws are estimated to be sold annually to tourists in Zanzibar. (Gossling et al., 2004). And although fishermen in Zanzibar report that the fins are the most valuable part of the shark, the jaws & teeth contribute 10% of the overall value of sharks on the market. (Gossling et al., 2004). Shark jaws & teeth are taken from sharks within the shark fishing trade. White sharks teeth and especially shark jaws come from sharks that have been killed within the shark fishing trade. If you choose to take home a souvenir commemorating your trip to a tropical destination please choose teeth that are fossilized and grey or black in color. These are likely teeth that have fallen out naturally and washed up on the beach versus those taken from the animal by force. The removal of apex predators from the ocean can have drastic consequences since their role in the ocean is so important. #KeepTheOceansHealthy by #SavingSharks!