“Some sharks can breathe while lying down.”
Not all. Some species, known as obligate ram ventilators, cannot pump water through their gills and must swim without rest. It is safe to say these species asphyxiate once finned. You know, if they’re not eaten by other predators or bleed out first.
This cruel act of brutality is banned in most parts of the world. If it seems something in the past, it very much isn’t. Recently at the 2014 Sharks International Convention in Durban, South Africa there was an activity that allowed for researchers to identify common fins.
“This is further proof that shark fin soup here in the U.S.—not just in Asia—is contributing to the global decline of sharks,” said Liz Karan, manager of global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group.
“Sharks must be protected from overfishing and any international trade and these vulnerable and endangered species must be tightly regulated.”
Shark finning has been highlighted for the monstrosity as it is… but that’s the only danger to sharks that ever is showcased with such ferocity and passion.
There are other perils that are facing sharks, and here are a few other ones:
A popular medicinal theory on sharks is that sharkfin consumption (the soup, pills) leads to increased energy and virility. The notion that shark cartilage aids in curing cancer was widely popularized by a misconception that arose from Dr. William Lane's best-selling book Sharks Don't Get Cancer, in 1992. While I have no medicine background what-so-ever, and have no knowledge of scientific research done on shark cartilage for energy/virility, and will not dispute their Eastern medicine belief, I will provide science for that cancer point:
In 1997, the American Society of Clinical Oncology reported a study that found shark cartilage ineffective against advanced cancer in adults.
In fact, shark fins can be extremely unhealthy. Like many other fish products, they have been known to contain dangerously high levels of mercury.
Jann Gilbert, author of Sharks may kill you… if you eat them, said that she had tested meat samples from three different species of shark and found various levels of arsenic and mercury. Gilbert’s study was based on toxic metals in dusky, sandbar and great white sharks in south-eastern Australia.
Arsenic pollution was also high, with some sharks containing arsenic concentrations significantly higher than safety recommendations. Very high levels of arsenic had also been found in hammerhead sharks in the Mediterranean sea in a separate study.
A bowl of shark fin soup is devoid of most vitamins, and quite empty on everything including taste. However, there is some iron and zinc present in this soup- something you can obtain from other food sources or pills.
The fishing industry for shark liver oil, squalene, was first used for machine lubricants, but now marketed as an ingredient in numerous cosmetics and lotions (Vannuccini 1999). In modern 2014, the cases of shark being found in cosmetics is reducing, but still present and should not be ignored.
The attention that commercial fishing has on shark populations is warranted as it has staggering catch numbers. By catch is a so-far unavoidable horror. However, recreational fishing and its effects on sharks is hardly studied and hard to detect.
Recreational fishing for sharks is popular in many places like the United States. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, it’s easy to see people showing off their latest catch, thinking it so cool to catch a “fiersome predator.” When someone lands a big one, it splashes across news headlines, and it’s all one can talk about.
What isn’t talked about how these species are being affected. A prime example is of the men who helped deliver 20 hammerhead pups after catching their mom. Story goes that these men in Florida fought a great hammerhead shark for two hours until they reeled her in, only to realize she had been bitten (probably by another shark- not rare) in her underbelly- and was filled with pups! They decided to do the heroic thing and throw the pups back into the surf.
A few things are wrong with these sorts of stories. First of all, many fishermen catch animals like this and never report it, skewing our population data. Secondly, while these men tried to save the pups (and admittedly did more than they had to), those pups probably died. And here’s why: there’s a reason why sharks go to specific locations to pup. These locations are sheltered and provide plenty of resources for food, habitat and protection. In open water like this, they’re vulnerable. Also, they tossed them into the surf, in an area that is quite shallow.
That’s like tossing a brand-spanking-new baby up into a kiddie pool right after popping out of momma. It’s just not recommended, am I right? So if we wouldn't do this to a human baby, why do it to an animal? It would have been better if they had gently placed the animals in the water—but not made their chances any higher for survival.
I will say this though: if only one of those pups survived, it's a small silver lining to an otherwise unnecessary death. I am 100% against shark fishing for reasons like this. This video becoming viral (almost 7,000 “likes” and around 11,500 shares on the Facebook page this was originally on) allows for constructive shark education to occur, though!
Fishing tournaments? Easy thinking there. You take the biggest fish out of the sea every time (because who doesn’t want that big fancy trophy or title?), and the biggest fish becomes smaller and smaller. Some tournament favorites are blue sharks, shortfin mako, porbeagle, threshers, etc.
For catch and release, tournaments are changing techniques to make for better handling and releasing of sharks. If proper techniques are not followed, the shark becomes stressed and, once released (if released), may not survive. Great hammerheads are a prime example of sharks who have a high mortality rate. Yet, they are not getting Endangered Species protection (which is silly in my POV, but I digress.)
Catch and release fishing should also be done carefully near areas of vulnerable shark populations, such as nursery and pupping grounds (Gallagher et al. 2012).To learn how to better handle and release sharks, visit here.
Remember that squalene oil found in shark livers? Well, fisheries target deepwater sharks because livers constitute up to 30% of their body weight. These critters are especially vulnerable to overexploitation due to not knowing much about their life histories and biology; it is known they have an extremely low reproduction potential (Kyne and Simpfendorfer 2007). This trade has collapsed quite a few fisheries, like the Gulper shark one in the Maldives (Adam et al. 1998).
I’m not sure as to why squalene is so highly sought out when the hydrocarbon compound that makes it up can be extracted from other sources, such as palm oil, which can be obtained/farmed more sustainably. It’s difficult to manage a fishery when we know little about the animals that make up said fishery.
Every wants that beach condo, or that hotel room with a view of the beach. What they don’t think about, when seeing this view from the comforts of the AC is that they’re helping wreck havoc on the very ecosystem they’re admiring. Coastal development has increased significantly, altering habitats and increasing pollution going into the ocean. Many shark species utilize coastal habitats as nurseries, and are therefore vulnerable to the habitat degradation going on. The Bahamas dredging resulted in a 25% decline in juvenile lemon shark survival (Jennings et al. 2008). (Simpfendorfer and Burgess 2009) noted juvenile bull sharks ceasing seasonal migrations due to being trapped in warm water outfalls of power plants, thus risking succumbing to thermal shock/stress.
As apex predators, sharks accumulate all the toxins in their environment and bioaccumulate the toxins of their prey. As talked about earlier, these sharks have high levels of pharmaceuticals. It’s not just for coastal sharks, but there have been high levels of toxins found even in Greenland sharks, evidence that this is a global problem.
Pollution is anything from pesticides and other chemicals to discarded fishing gear/nets (which still are catching animals, by the way—a practice called ghost fishing), plastic bags, toys, etc.
Speaking of nets, let’s discuss shark nets; also called beach protection programs, they are catch sharks (and other wildlife) while providing bathers protection. Shark control programs have been utilized in several places including New South Wales and Queensland, Australia and KwaZulu Natal (KZN), South Africa. The Natal Sharks Board (NSB), responsible for the nets in South Africa, argues the nets have done their job: protect bathers.
These nets in SA have caught great white sharks (protected in South Africa since 1991), tiger sharks, hammerheads, turtles, dolphins, and rays, amongst other sea life—some argue it’s the same thing as a cull, especially since 35% of sharks are headed offshore (Dudley 1995).
Other alternatives for these nets, first put in place in the 1950’s, have been since suggested. One popular contender is EcoBarrier, made of what seems to be hard plastic, which is harder for animals to get entangled with.
Worldwide, the death of sharks is profitable. Not as profitable as say ecotourism, but as souvenirs. Jaws are coveted trophies, and teeth are used for necklaces and other trinkets. Baby sharks can be seen in jars of formaldehyde for a pretty penny, too.
Has anyone seen the video? If you’re into sharks, you might have even heard of it, if not seen it.
What are your thoughts on this?
The following is my opinion on the whole matter:
If you want to save sharks, showing the world they are not aggressive as the media portrays them is a small fraction of the overall solution. What is the scientific reasoning behind fin riding? How is it educational? In fact, if we are teaching anything, it’s how to abuse an animal’s personal space! How would you like it if some stranger grabbed your arm and followed you around? So what’s to say the animal likes it?
I believe if we are to make a true difference, we have to put pressure on politicians and legislators to support legitimate research to protect and conserve these animals. Taking attractive shark videos doesn’t help. I mean, it is great art (I don’t know if I’d count it that) but sharks’ being perceived as dangerous is not the only reason they are in trouble (see the list above).
Their heart is in the right mindset… but there is other ways to promote the image of sharks.
- Adam, M.S., Merrett, N.R. and Anderson, R.C. 1998. Additions to the fish fauna of the Maldives. Part 1: An annotated checklist of the deep demersal fishes of the Maldive Islands. Ichthyological Bulletin of the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology 67(Part 1):1-19.
- Babcock, E.A. 2008. Recreational fishing for pelagic sharks worldwide. In: M.D. Camhi, E.K. Pikitch and E.A. Babcock (Eds.), Sharks of the Open Ocean: Biology, Fisheries and Conservation, pp. 193-204. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
- Camhi, M.D., S.V. Valenti, S.V. Fordham, S.I. Fowler and C. Gibson. 2009. The Conservation Status of Pelagic Sharks and Rays: Report of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group Pelagic Shark Red List Workshop. IUCN Species Survival Commission Shark Specialist Group, Newbury
- Campana, S. E., Marks, L., Joyce, W., and Kohler, N.E. 2006. Effects of recreational and commercial fishing on blue sharks (Prionace glauca) in Atlantic Canada, with inferences on the North Atlantic population. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science, 63: 670-682.
- Casey, J.G. and Hoey, J.J. 1985. Estimated catches of large sharks by US recreational fishermen in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Shark catches from selected fisheries off the US East Coast. NOAA Technical Report NMFS SSRF.
- Dudley, S.F.J. 1995. Shark control measures: the Natal Sharks Board and shark conservation. Shark News, 4: 1-2.
- Gallagher, A.J., Kyne, P.M., and Hammerschlag, N. 2012. Ecological risk assessment and its application to elasmobranch conservation and management. Journal of Fish Biology, doi: 10.1111/j.1095-8649.2012.03235.x.
- Jennings, D. E., Gruber, S. H., Franks, B. R., Kessel, S. T. & Robertson, A. L. (2008). Effects of large-scale anthropogenic development on juvenile lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) populations of Bimini, Bahamas. Environmental Biology of Fishes 83, 369–377.
- Kyne, P.M., and Simpfendorfer, C.A. 2007. A collation and summarization of available data on deepwater chondrichthyans: biodiversity, life history and fisheries. A report prepared by the IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group for the Marine Conservation Biology Institute.
- OSPAR. 2010. OSPAR Commission. Background Document for Portuguese dogfish Centroscymnus coelolepis. At: http://qsr2010.ospar.org/media/assessments/Species/P00469_Portuguese_dogfish.pdf.
- Simpfendorfer, C. & Burgess, G.H. 2009. Carcharhinus leucas. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 14 June 2014.
- Simpfendorfer, C. A., Heupel, M. R., White, W. T. & Dulvy, N. K. (2011). The importance of research and public opinion to conservation management of sharks and rays: a synthesis. Marine and Freshwater Research 62, 518–527.
- Sumpton, W.D., Taylor, S.M. Gribble, N.A., McPherson, G., and Ham, T. 2011. Gear selectivity of large-mesh nets and drumlines used to catch sharks in the Queensland Shark Control Program. African Journal of Marine Sciences, 33(1): 37-43.
- Vannuccini, S. 1999. Shark Utilization, Marketing and Trade. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 389, Rome, 470 pp.