What will save sharks?

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What will save sharks?

Sharks have been on the planet for 400 million years, having survived every major extinction. Now their fate is entirely up to us.

(This post is guest-written by Lindsay O’Donnell of  Wake Project.  Thanks, Lindsay!)

As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about sharks, writing about sharks, and talking about sharks, I’ve come to a conclusion: sharks are very much like Tom Cruise.

Survival of both sharks and Tom Cruise rest on a good PR agent. Cruise has proven on multiple occasions that without someone molding his public image, his stock drops drastically.

I can argue that without someone convincing the world that sharks are lovable, valuable, and spectacular, they will likely disappear.

It baffles me as to why the world doesn’t embrace sharks.  I mean, they may not be born with a smile like dolphins and their babies aren’t cute, cuddly mascots for Coke, but how did Killer Whales become more lovable? They have the word KILLER in their name!

My point is that sharks may never be as beloved as panda bears or as marketable as polar bears but they deserve our respect, reverence, and protection as much as any other animal on the planet.

You’ll rarely see sharks jump and play free spiritedly like dolphins but it’s probably because they’re too damn busy trying to keep their fins attached to their bodies, staying away from tuna fishing gear, and avoiding killer whales, all while trying to regulate the entire ocean.

As ‘Apex Predators’ sharks reside at the top of their food chains and ensure that population of species on lower rungs of the chain remain healthy. In this way all species are inter-connected and keep our marine ecosystems healthy.

This shark is another victim of bycatch. It is estimated that 70% or more of what is caught in the fishing industry is thrown away.

Except for the odd Killer Whale feeling rebellious and belligerent, larger sharks have no predators. Because of this sharks have extremely slow growth rates, some sharks don’t reproduce until they are 25-30 years old. This means that although sharks can see in the dark, have a sense of smell that is 10,000 times better than us (they can smell a drop of blood a quarter of a mile away), and can feel a heart beating 1,000 metres away; they are no match for our insatiable demand for seafood.

Unsustainable fishing methods and the cruel practice of finning results in an estimated 100,000,000 sharks being taken out of the water every year. Sharks regularly get caught in purse seine nets and longlines that span miles through the ocean. Both of these common fishing methods “incidentally” catch sharks, turtles, birds, marine mammals etc… even thought they are usually targeting tuna.

This is called ‘bycatch’ (catching untargeted species) and it’s an enormous problem for sharks and for many other oceanic species. Most of it is thrown back into the ocean (most if not all of it now lifeless) while anything profitable is kept such as shark fins.

It’s not something many of us want to hear but every time we purchase or consume seafood, we are supporting this industry. Greenpeace has had some successful campaigns that pushed some fisheries to be more sustainable but personally I’d rather leave the creatures of the ocean to do their work than be on my plate.

I always find it interesting that many people can’t stomach the thought of 100 sled dogs being shot and thrown in a mass grave but boiling a lobster alive or cutting the fins off a live shark doesn’t ignite the same passionate outrage. The difference is that we’re able to see the beauty and value in one animal on a daily basis and the value of the other is hidden under water. I truly believe that a PR agent is the only thing that can save sharks. The good news is that anybody can choose to be one. I know Tom Cruise would agree with me too.

1 Comment

Alison C.

April 16, 2011 at 1:24 am

Excellent article, Lindsay!

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