Sharks are a keystone species, meaning that their presence and ecological role impacts the lives of many other species and processes, both directly and indirectly. The removal of sharks has been linked to the degradation of the health of marine ecosystems.
Think of sharks as the "doctors of the ocean society;" their functional ecological role is to pick off (consume) the dead, dying, weak, sick, injured, etc, which helps to keep disease from spreading, which is very important for the health of fish stocks that humans and many other marine animals rely on. Sharks have evolved incredible sensory systems which allow them to hone in on that one particular injured or sick individual, which also might likely explain why it is so rare that they make a mistake and bite a human.
There are actually fewer than 10 human fatalities each year due to a shark bite.
By picking off the weak and wounded fish and other marine life, sharks encourage evolution so only the strongest and healthiest individuals are likely to reproduce which leads to more resilient and healthier fish stocks, the balance of other marine life populations, and that also benefits humans.
Sharks keep mesopredators and lower trophic level populations in balance with their prey items. Think of sharks as the “lions of the ocean savannah” their mere presence helps to keep their prey items populations healthy by encouraging them to continually move so that they don’t overgraze. In the ocean this means that the presence of sharks keeps mesopredatory fish like jacks continually moving which limits their time they would otherwise spend predating on more herbivorous fish who are important to keep the corals cleaned of algae. Without the smaller herbivorous fish to clean the coral it can become overgrown and essentially suffocate and die. Humans rely on the health and productivity of coral reefs for many reasons other than just fish, they are also the barriers and homes for many island nations and when large storms come in healthy reefs can help protect people from those storms and the loss of land.
Sharks also help to move nutrients around the ocean both directly through their own defecation and by encouraging their prey items to move, which also move nutrients or energy in the water column which can be linked into the important movement phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are the primary producers of the ocean and produce 70% of the oxygen that is produced on the planet!
Seagrass is very important for the production of oxygen and the presence of sharks around seagrass beds limits the "grazing" time of species like sea turtles and dugongs.
Many local human communities also directly rely on the abundance and biodiversity of reefs for their sustenance and livelihoods and so they rely on sharks. The economic benefit of seeing sharks in ecotourism programs brings in millions and soon to be billions in the global economy. Sharks are much more valuable alive than dead for many reasons.
The time sensitive problem:
In the past few decades, sharks have been heavily targeted and killed just for their fins for something called “shark fin soup.” Shark fin soup is not something that is eaten for nutrition, in fact, shark meat is actually very high in toxins and shouldn’t be consumed, shark fin soup is an old “tradition” in some parts of China that became more widely popular to serve in recent decades and has been directly linked to the devastation of most large shark species. Over 100,000,000 sharks are killed each year and the majority are because of the high demand for shark fin soup. Please boycott all restaurants and business associated with the shark fin trade, sale, and distribution.
The fishing of sharks is not sustainable, meaning they can not reproduce fast enough to maintain their populations. Naturally top apex predators are slow to reproduce, they have long gestation periods and pup few young. Most large species are down to their last 10% and their numbers are rapidly dropping because there are fewer individuals in general which means less interactions or chances of finding a mate.
Shark populations are also rapidly being depleted because of commercial fishing methods. Sharks, along with many other marine animals like sea turtles, dolphins, whales, sea birds, and more are commonly caught as “bycatch” in the process of commercial fishing. There are different methods of fishing like longline fishing, gill nets, bottom trawling, and purse sene nets which are all very destructive. Commercial fishies also contribute to more than 50% of marine debris. Please help sharks and many marine animals by never buying commercially caught seafood.
Sharks are also killed just for sport in some places. In places like Florida in the United States sharks are fished nightly just for sport. Sharks often do not survive even when released. Apex predators like sharks and lions and cheetahs must be energy conservative and so fighting for their life often exhausts them beyond the point of recovery.
Sharks are also killed for their liver oil to be used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, despite the fact that there are plant based sources with the same chemical structure. They are also killed for their cartilage which is falsely advertised to people to have some health benefit for joints. There is no scientific evidence to support any health benefits to consuming shark cartilage.
Sharks are also killed for souvenirs. Their teeth, jaws, and sometimes even baby sharks are cut out of mother sharks and put into jars for souvenir shops around the world. Please, if you see any of these items, tell that store you will not support such cruel and wasteful things or their company if they are going to support the decimation of sharks and the reliant health of the ocean and future generations. There is a pre-drafted letter freely available to download and share or email to any store, company, or individual who sells, collects, or consumes shark fins, meat, or byproducts. Please download and distribute it as much as possible (currently available in English and Chinese) at HelpSaveSharks.Org or it is also on OneOceanDiving.Com
Illustration credit to WWF
Illustration credit to PEW trust
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Thank you! Mahalo nui loa to everyone who supported HB553, after many years we finally won protection for manō (sharks) in Hawaii!!!