Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sharks: A Deadly Misunderstanding

Zak Palmer
Image from Woodridge, IL, USA --- Great White Shark Opening Mouth --- Image by © Denis Scott/Corbis

Every year people flock to beaches to get away from humdrum inland life and experience the tropical glory of the ocean. Most people are conscious of the creatures that inhabit these oceans, but in the case of the most sharks, it is for all the wrong reasons. People fear these magnificent creatures and do not understand the importance of their role in maintaining a healthy ocean. You can count the number of people that died from shark attacks last year on two hands. This hardly seems like something to be seriously concerned about as vastly more people die for much less feared reasons on a weekly basis.

Great white sharks are apex predators in the oceans. This means that they are the top predator responsible for controlling a variety of populations which, in turn, control other populations. If an apex predator is lost, then the entire ecosystem is thrown off. Populations that should be controlled grow wild and vastly decrease the numbers of the ones in which they feed. This causes the original population to die off as they run out of food. Health of the great white is vastly important as it has recently been discovered that they can live over 70 years which means they need longer to fully mature. The health of many oceans depends upon the great white.

The situation for the sharks is dire. Humans kill over 100 million sharks each year. Things such as bycatch, purposeful hunting, and accidents. These sharks that are purposefully killed almost never do anything to provoke their killers. It is estimated that over 90% of the predatory fish in the ocean have been eliminated by humans in the last 50-100 years. This number is alarming and contributes to unbalanced ecosystem and aids in the human destruction of oceans.

If the current trend continues, many shark species will be headed towards endangerment or extinction if they are not already there. Sharks currently represent the most threatened marine creatures on the World Conservation Union's red list. It is never a good thing when any species is lost, but it is especially detrimental when the species is of such vast importance.

All hope is not lost however. There are many things that can be done to save millions of sharks. Simple modifications to fishing gear or fishing techniques can save a huge amount of sharks lost from the fishing industry. A general knowledge of the creatures can lead to less deaths due to spiteful killings. A little extra attention when navigating the oceans can help to prevent accidents. As fascinating as sharks are it would be a shame to lose some of them for good. As humans, we need to stop trying to be the apex predators of the oceans and allow the creatures that were meant to be do their jobs. 



  1. I have always said that sharks are extremely misunderstood. I think they're really awesome creatures, and it stinks that they get such a bad rep. I had no idea that over 100 million sharks are killed per year- that's crazy! I really think more education on sharks needs to be happening so people understand the truth instead of basing their opinions off of a mistake of the shark. I hope they don't go extinct! :(

  2. I agree with liltempo, sharks are really misunderstood. I think a more connected world is to blame. We are able to spread the word about things in less than a day thanks to advances in internet speeds and technology. So if a "shark attack" happens, we will probably learn about it by dinner time or when we wake up in the morning. I knew sharks are hunted, fished, and killed each year, but the number of 100 million is very shocking and surprising. I almost don't believe it but I can see how it can reach so high. Good post! I hope your next post will be a follow-up.

  3. The shark decline is truly sad. Until recently, I had no idea how many sharks were killed each year. About six months ago, I watched a video about Gordon Ramsay's experience eating shark fin soup for the first time, and it was a real eye opener. It's terrible to think something as horrific as finning still occurs, and that (on average) 38 million sharks suffer this fate each year.
    This is the link to the video:

  4. The huge decline in shark populations is one of the great failures of fisheries management. Unfortunately, we do not know enough about the biology of most shark species to effectively manage them, and the international community has not done a good job of regulating against shark fin fishing. Shark biologists are even concerned about how we manage our own shark populations in U.S. waters.