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Are Sharks Endangered? Shark Finning and Other Threats to Sharks

By

photo of shark fins drying in the sun

Each of these shark fins was hacked from a living shark. The shark was then tossed in the sea to slowly bleed to death.

Shark Basics | 6 Ways to Save Sharks From Extinction | Sharks Main Page

A cloud of yellow and blue reef fish darted around a coral head, nibbling at algae and looping upwards to rejoin the cloud in a hypnotizing, cyclical movement. I only noticed the gray shadow to my right when the fish scattered. I froze, terrified, as a 6-foot bull shark lazily finned past my dive group. This was my first shark encounter, and though I was afraid at first, my fear slowly gave way to enchantment. The powerful shark moved with an unexpected, gentle grace. It wasn't out to eat me! The shark was utterly uninterested in divers, behaving as if I didn't exist. Now, sharks have become one of my favorite creatures to encounter underwater. Unfortunately, underwater shark sightings are becoming rare, because shark populations around the world are dropping at an alarming rate.

Is the Declining Number of Sharks Really Noticeable to Scuba Divers?:

Yes. An estimated 70 million sharks are killed annually. In my ten years of diving, I have noticed a drastic drop in the number of sharks on my local reefs, as have divers in other locations around the world. Fishermen have also noted that the sharks they are catching are generally smaller.

As of 2012, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists twenty shark species as threatened with extinction, including great hammerheads, scalloped hammerheads, oceanic white tips, threshers, short fin makos, and long fin makos. Along the U.S. Atlantic coast, black tip, bull and tiger shark populations dropped as much as 99% from 1970 and 2005.

Why Are Sharks Endangered?:

Sharks are being overfished. An apex predator, most shark species have no natural predators, and take over seven years to reach maturity. A shark raises one or two pups a year. In the past, sharks' slow maturation and reproduction rates have not been an issue. However, when sharks are overfished, they cannot reproduce at they same rate as they are being killed, causing a rapid decline in shark populations. With fewer numbers of sharks in the ocean, fishermen are now removing young sharks that have not had the opportunity to reproduce. This exacerbates the problem. Researchers predict that shark populations may be wiped out over the next 10-20 years due to negative human activities.

Why Are Fewer Sharks Bad for the Health of the Oceans?:

Because sharks eat other fish, many people assume that fewer sharks will equate to more reef fish. This is not the case; losing top predators such as sharks negatively affects the entire marine ecosystem:

• Without sharks, other species may reproduce too quickly, offsetting the balance of the marine ecosystem. For example, some shark species consume rays, which in turn consume shellfish. If shark populations drop, ray populations increase. More rays consume more shellfish, and shellfish populations decrease. This has a negative effect on the entire ecosystem, as shellfish filter and clean water. Without sufficient shellfish populations, water quality becomes quite poor. The health of the environment is dependent upon the natural balance of a healthy food chain, including sharks.

• Sharks are apex predators and scavengers. They remove sick, dying, and injured marine animals from the population , and consume dead marine life. This helps populations of other marine animals to stay healthy and strong.

Sharks Are Overfished for Human Consumption:

Not only are sharks exciting to see on a scuba dive, they are essential for the health of the underwater world that we all love. However, humans continue to overfish sharks for uses such as:

• leather/ skin
• jewelry made from shark teeth and cartilage
• shark liver oil
• skin care products
• cosmetics
In most of these cases, only a small portion of the shark is used, and the rest of the shark (including the meat) is discarded. However, the harvesting of sharks for these purposes makes up only a tiny percentage of shark overfishing. The biggest threat to sharks today is the harvesting of shark fins, which can sell for over 300 USD/lb and are used in . . .
• shark fin soup
Shark fin soup is an Asian delicacy fetching between $50 to $400 USD per bowl. It is typically served at celebrations to impress guests or demonstrate affluence. The demand for shark fin soup has increased as China and other Far East economies have prospered. Shark fin is the main ingredient of the soup, however the fin is tasteless and has little nutritional value. The fin only provides the gelatinous consistency of the soup, which is flavored with chicken or other stock.

After you finish this article, I highly recommend watching
Chef Gordon Ramsey's video about shark fin soup.

What Is Shark Finning?:

Shark finning is the capture of sharks for the harvest of only the shark's fin. Fishermen catch the shark, and slice off its fin while it is still alive. Not only is this cruel, it is wasteful; no other part of the shark is used. There is little demand for shark meat, and transporting it requires a huge amount of space. However, shark fins only make up 4% of a shark's total body weight, and fisherman can store thousands in a single boat hold.

Unthinkably, the mutilated, living shark is thrown back into the ocean to die after its fins have been removed. It may take days for a shark to die while it starves to death, is eaten alive by other fish, or dies from lack of oxygen due to its inability to swim. It is difficult to comprehend how one living creature could do this to another.

Shark Fishing via Long Lines Is Unsustainable:

Long line fishing, one of the methods used to catch sharks, is also unsustainable. Long lines are monofilament lines ranging from 1 to over 100 miles in length. The long line is kept floating on the surface with styrofoam floats. Secondary lines are attached about every 100 feet. Shark species are targeted indiscriminately, with no regard to the individual shark's age or size. Long lines also hook all types of “by-catch” (such as turtles and seabirds) regardless of the fact that endangered or legally protected species may be accidentally hooked. Much of the by-catch is unprofitable, and approximately 25% is tossed back into the ocean to die.

Long lines can also catch divers! If a diver ever spots fishing boats utilizing long lines near a dive site, do not dive! Unfortunately, long lining is not illegal unless CITES-listed endangered or threatened species are caught. Report any dangerous or illegal activity to your dive center or local authorities.

Shark Finning Occurs Around the World:

As a multi-billion dollar industry, it is easy to understand why fishermen continue to illegally practice this barbaric fishing technique. The selling price of shark fins is even tempting enough to motivate poachers to catch sharks in national marine parks like Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island off Costa Rica.

Hopefully you are now horrified by the brutality of shark fishing, and by the fact that sharks are close to becoming extinct. The next page focuses on how scuba divers can help to prevent sharks from going extinct. Keep Reading

Part 1: Shark Basics and Trivia | Part 3: 6 Ways to Save Sharks From Extinction | Home: Sharks Main Page

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