SHARK THREATS

Manta Ray © Steve Jones.

Sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras, are among the world’s most threatened animals. 

We need sharks to keep our ocean’s healthy and teeming with life. But human activity is pushing many species to the brink. Sharks and rays are particularly vulnerable to overfishing due to their biology. They’re:

  • SLOW GROWING & LATE TO MATURE – it’s estimated that the Greenland Shark can live ~400 years and  doesn’t reach sexual maturity until ~150 years! Many are killed before they’ve produced offspring.
  • LONG PREGNANCIES – averaging between 9-12 months. The Greeneye Dogfish has the longest recorded pregnancy at 31 months!
  • PRODUCE FEW YOUNG – varying from 2 pups for the Bigeye Thresher to 135 for the Blue Shark. Compare this to the reproduction potential of bony fish who release millions of eggs.
  • MAY NOT REPRODUCE EVERY YEAR – some species have a  resting phase of 1-2 years.

OVERFISHING

The biggest threat to sharks globally is overfishing. Each year many tens of millions of sharks are landed. Fuelled by a high demand for shark products. Sharks play vital roles in marine ecosystems. So, as shark populations rapidly decline around the world, so too does the health of our oceans.

A global expansion of shark fishing has been underway for several decades. Inadequate fisheries management worldwide is a big challenge to shark conservation. As is the complex nature of the international trade of shark products. Our job becomes more challenging still due to a lack of shark data and resources. Also a lack of political will to properly monitor, manage and control shark fisheries and trade.


DEMAND FOR SHARK PRODUCTS

Shark meat and products can be found in restaurants, health food stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, fashion stores, souvenir and pet shops. Often consumers are unaware certain products contain shark, as it’s not clearly labelled. Consumer awareness is key.

  • SHARK MEAT & FINS – it’s encouraging to see declines in demand for shark fins. Yet it’s important to note that the global trade in shark meat is on the rise. This is likely to far exceed any demand for fins, which are mainly sent to East and Southeast Asia.
  • MANTA & DEVIL RAY GILL PLATES – these are highly sought after in the Chinese medicinal trade. It’s claimed that gill rakers can filter out disease and toxins from the body. The gill rakers, which are used by the rays to filter zooplankton from the water, are often consumed in a soup called Peng Yu Sai. They’re worth an estimated US$11 million annually. The gill plate trade, centered in Guangzhou, China, has stimulated intensive fishing for these rays in many countries.
  • SHARK LIVER OIL (labelled squalene/squalane) – this can be found in a surprising number of products. From moisturisers, deodorants and sun tan lotion, to lip balm, lipsticks and other cosmetics. It’s also used in vaccines, pills and supplements. The highest return of squalene comes from the livers of deep sea sharks. And so, they’re intensively fished. Due to the nature of their biology they’re unable to withstand this level of fishing pressure. Many are now listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species.
  • SHARK CARTILAGE – is sold as a health supplement in many health food shops and pharmacies. It’s believed to help a variety of conditions, including arthritis, shingles, rheumatism, haemorrhoids, psoriasis and even cancer. Yet there’s no clinical evidence to support these claims
  • SHARK LEATHER (shagreen) – shark skin has been used for decades to make leather because it’s so durable. It’s particularly popular in the United States, northern Europe and Japan. It’s used to create luxury items such as, wallets, shoes (including football boots created by the brand Kelme), handbags, watch straps, belts, gloves, jackets and furniture. As well as sandpaper and on sword handles, as its rough texture helps with grip.
  • SHARK TEETH & JAWS – these can often be seen for sale in seaside tourist shops. Despite the fact that in many countries it’s illegal to catch sharks. White Sharks are protected under CITES, yet their teeth and jaws can fetch huge sums on the black market. A single tooth can sell for over $100 and a whole set of jaws can fetch up to $10,000 in the USA. Sadly, illegal smuggling of White Shark teeth is becoming increasingly common in countries such as South Africa.

SHARK FINNING

Shark finning is the process of cutting off the fins of a shark and discarding the body, often still alive, at sea. This wasteful and cruel practice contradicts all principles of sustainability. It also makes effective fisheries management impossible. It’s illegal in many parts of the world, including Europe. But, weak legislation and ineffective enforcement often undermines shark finning regulations. Our Stop Shark Finning campaign continues to address this issue.


POLLUTION & HABITAT DESTRUCTION

Healthy oceans need sharks. But sharks also need healthy oceans. Climate change, pollution and the destruction of habitats all play a part in declining shark populations. To survive sharks need food, areas to breed, give birth, and shelter for their young. Mangroves, for instance, provide essential food and protection for Lemon Shark pups.

Shark’s role

SHARKS’ ROLE IN THE OCEANS

Sharks play a very important role in the oceans in a way that an average fish does not. Sharks are at the top of the food chain in virtually every part of every ocean. In that role, they keep populations of other fish healthy and in proper proportion for their ecosystem.  How do sharks keep the oceans healthy?

SHARKS KEEP FOOD WEBS IN BALANCE

Sharks have evolved in a tight inter-dependency with their ecosystem. They tend to eat very efficiently, going after the old, sick, or slower fish in a population that they prey upon, keeping that population healthier. Sharks groom many populations of marine life to the right size so that those prey species don’t cause harm to the ecosystem by becoming too populous.

The ocean ecosystem is made up of very intricate food webs.  Sharks are at the top of these webs and are considered by scientists to be “keystone” species, meaning that removing them causes the whole structure to collapse.  For this reason, the prospect of a food chain minus its apex predators may mean the end of the line for many more species.  A number of scientific studies demonstrate that depletion of sharks results in the loss of commercially important fish and shellfish species down the food chain, including key fisheries such as tuna, that maintain the health of coral reefs.

Sharks keep prey populations healthy

Predatory sharks prey on the sick and the weak members of their prey populations, and some also scavenge the sea floor to feed on dead carcasses.  By removing the sick and the weak, they prevent the spread of disease and prevent outbreaks that could be devastating. Preying on the weakest individuals also strengthens the gene pools of the prey species.  Since the largest, strongest, and healthiest fish generally reproduce in greater numbers, the outcome is larger numbers of healthier fish.

Sharks keep sea grass beds and other vital habitats healthy

Through intimidation, sharks regulate the behavior of prey species, and prevent them from overgrazing vital habitats.  Some shark scientists believe that this intimidation factor may actually have more of an impact on the ecosystem than what sharks eat.  For example, scientists in Hawaii found that tiger sharks had a positive impact on the health of sea grass beds.  Turtles, which are the tiger sharks’ prey, graze on sea grass.  In the absence of tiger sharks, the turtles spent all of their time grazing on the best quality, most nutritious sea grass, and these habitats were soon destroyed.  When tiger sharks are in the area, however, turtles graze over a broader area and do not overgraze one region.

An important lesson: we need sharks!

Where sharks are eliminated, the marine ecosystem loses its balance.

In the parts of the ocean where sharks have been fished out of existence, we can see the dangerous result of removing the top predator from an ecosystem.

The lesson is important. Sharks are being killed for their fins for shark fin soup, a food that has assumed cultural value but is not important for human survival or health. However, removing the sharks can result in the loss of important foods that we do depend upon for survival.

Sharks have survived for 450 million years, but may be gone within the next decades. Life within the oceans, covering 2/3rds of our planet, has enjoyed a relationship with sharks for about 450 million years. Our growing demand for shark fin soup has increased the slaughter of sharks to such a great extent that many shark species are already nearing extinction.

What will the health of oceans be like when such an important group of animals have been destroyed? Do we want the destruction of sharks and the oceans to be the legacy we leave for our children?

Top 10 largest sharks

10. Pacific Sleeper Shark (Somniosus pacificus) 14.4 feet / 4.4 m

This shark from the North Pacific feeds on bottom animals. They’re known to eat giant octopus. They’re fairly productive and their litter sizes are estimated to be around 300. They’re often prey to killer whales.
Pacific Sleeper Shark
Photo: NOAA

9. Bluntnose Sixgill Shark (Hexanchus griseus) 15.8 feet / 4.8 m

This deepwater shark is found around the world in tropical and temperate waters. It spends most of it life in deep water, where it feeds on anything they can find, from crabs to other sharks. Females can give birth to over 100 pups at once.
Bluntnose Sixgill Shark (Hexanchus griseus)
Picture: NOAA Ocean Explorer

8. Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus) 18.8 feet / 5.73 m

The thresher shark has one of the biggest ranges of all sharks. It’s found everywhere except polar waters. About half of its length is due to their enormous tail, which they use to generate great power when they swim.
Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus)
Photo: John V Lau

7. Great Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna mokarran) 20 feet / 6.1 m

The great hammerhead is the largest species of hammerhead. It is found in warm waters around the world. Due to their size they’re potentially dangerous to divers, but there are no confirmed attacks on record. Unfortunately their numbers are declining due to the shark fin trade.
Great Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna mokarran)
Photo: Albert Kok

6. Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) 20 feet / 6.1 m

The greatest predator on Earth, the great white is famous worldwide for hunting ability. They feed mostly on mammals like seals, dolphins and porpoises, and also fish like sharks and rays. They hold the record for the most bites on humans among all sharks, but most are exploratory bites, where the shark is trying to figure out if they is edible. In most cases, great sharks are more interested in fattier prey such as seals.
Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
Photo: Terry Goss

5. Greenland Shark (Somniosus microcephalus) 24 feet / 7.3 m

The Greenland shark is found in the North Atlantic. It’s one of the few filter feeder sharks and eats mostly plankton. It is extremely long-lived, with some individuals thought to be over 300 years old. They reach sexual maturity at around 100 years of age. This shark is completely harmless to divers, but its meat is poisonous.
Greenland Shark (Somniosus microcephalus)
Greenland Shark. (Photo: Justin – JLplusAL)

4. Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) 24.6 feet / 7.5 m

Tiger sharks are highly migratory and are found in most of the world’s temperate and tropical waters. They’re nocturnal opportunistic eaters and will eat anything from turtles to other sharks. They’re also very productive, and can have over 80 pups in a litter. Their most salient characteristic is the stripes on their sides. This species has the second most recorded attacks on humans. But despite their ferocity, they’re known to be taken by groups of killer whales.
Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)
Photo: Albert Kok

3. Megamouth Shark (Megachasma pelagios) 25 feet / 7.6 meters

This giant is a plankton eater found in all oceans, but it’s most commonly spotted in the Pacific. The largest specimen ever found was caught and released in California.
Megamouth Shark (Megachasma pelagios)
Photo: FLMNH Ichthyology/Wikimedia

2. Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) 49.8 feet / 15.2 m

A filter feeder, the basking shark is big enough to swallow you whole, but it’s completely harmless to humans. They’re diet consists of mostly of plankton, which they consume by the pound with their huge mouth, which can open over 1 m wide. These sharks are highly migratory and are known to cover distances of over 9,000 Km a year.
Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus)
Photo: Greg Skomal

1. Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) 55.7 feet / 17 m

The largest fish in the world, the whale shark, is an endangered species found in most of the world’s tropical waters. Like the megamouth sharks and the basking shark, whale sharks are filter feeders and their diet consists almost exclusively of plankton.  Because of this they’re completely harmless to humans, and diving with whale sharks has become a popular ecotourism attraction in several countries. While looking for food, whale sharks move their head from side and open and close their gills to get rid of excess of water. The largest individuals can weigh over 30 tonnes and give birth to 300 pups.
Whale Shark (Rhiniodon typus)
Photo: Abe Khao Lak

Yet more Illegal Landings of Basking Sharks in Spain

Spain: The Shark Alliance is yet again expressing outrage over the continued illegal take of basking sharks in Spain. The shark was landed in Galicia on March 19th; only eighteen days after two of these gentle giants were landed in Northern Spain.

EU vessels have been prohibited from fishing, retaining or landing basking sharks, even if the catch is accidental, since 2006. The coalition continues to call on Spain and the European Commission to enforce the basking shark rules and educate fishermen that the species is both endangered and legally protected.

A year ago, the European Commission released its Shark Plan of Action, which includes commitments to educate fishermen and the public about shark conservation measures.   On March 1st 2010, an eight meter basking shark was landed in Galicia and the next day a four meter  juvenile male was brought to shore in Asturias.  In May 2009, two seven meter-long basking sharks were taken illegally from the waters off Valencia by one Spanish fishing vessel within the span of 24 hours. In December 2009, a baby basking shark was found on display at a supermarket fish counter in Santander.

The harmless, plankton-feeding basking shark, the world’s second largest fish, is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Endangered in the Northeast Atlantic.

Shark Alliance member group, Submon, released, “SPAIN: A driving force in shark fishing around the world” last year. In the report, author Alex Bartoli details poor enforcement and lack of awareness of shark protections in his country.

More information, media interviews or B roll:

Sophie Hulme
Tel: +44 (0) 7973 712 869
Email: sophie@communicationsinc.co.uk

Notes to Editors

The Shark Alliance is a coalition of 85 conservation, scientific and recreational organizations dedicated to improving global shark conservation policies.

The Shark Alliance was initiated and is coordinated by the Pew Environment Group, the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-government organisation that is working to end overfishing in the world’s oceans.

Basking shark livers are valuable for oil which is used in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. A single basking shark fin can fetch tens of thousands of euros for use as storefront advertising that a Chinese restaurant sells the delicacy “shark fin soup.”  Basking shark fins are also used in this soup.

Basking sharks are listed under the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Convention on Migratory Species, and several European conservation treaties.

NO FIN TO DECLARE

Right now, anyone travelling to the UK from outside Europe can legally bring 20kg of dried shark fins with them for personal consumption.

It’s enough to make 705 bowls of soup and has a black market value of around £3,600.

It’s illegal to bring meat or cheese on long haul flights yet legal to bring 20kg of shark fins.

This loophole in the law has created a legal route for the uncontrolled and unregulated movement of shark fins across 28 countries. And it takes no account of the announcement from The International Union for Conservation of Nature that 25% of all shark species are threatened with extinction.

For the survival of sharks the law must change.

Already 154,000 people have signed our petition calling on the EU to ban the personal imporation of ALL shark fins to Europe. Please add your voice to our NO FIN TO DECLAREpetition now and help us change the law

Mind your Language

TV presenters Steve Backshall and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall head a growing list of high profile individuals supporting a call for responsible shark journalism by Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation.

The UK shark charity says that decades of news headlines labelling sharks as ‘monsters’, ‘killers’ and ‘beasts’ — language typically used to describe rapists, terrorists and paedophiles — has created a climate of fear and loathing that is thwarting shark conservation initiatives.

Bite-Back’s view is underpinned by a recent survey that revealed 46% of Brits think sharks are more terrifying than spiders, snakes and rodents combined and nearly two-thirds (64%) would prefer sharks not to exist.

Patron of Bite-Back, Steve Backshall, said: “It’s time that journalists understand how these sensational headlines and falsehoods are perpetrating a hatred of sharks that ‘justifies’ their boundless slaughter. In many ways, I think the media is complicit in one of the greatest deliberate exterminations in our planet’s history.”

An estimated 73 million sharks are slaughtered every year and Britain ranks in the top 25 shark fishing nations in the world. As a result, populations of key shark species, including the great white, hammerhead, oceanic whitetip and thresher, have fallen by 90% in the past 60 years.

Chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “Sharks are getting a bad press they simply don’t deserve. Decades of sensational headlines have stripped sharks of their status as vital marine species and all too often left the public frightened for little reason. I’d welcome any move by the media to fairly report sharks rather than default to tired and inaccurate click bait captions.”

In the past six weeks most UK print, online and broadcast media outlets have run sensational shark stories — many using language including ‘ferocious’, ‘terrifying’, ‘killer’, ‘invasion’, ‘blood-thirsty’, ‘lurking’ and ‘deadly’ to describe sharks. Yet the truth is that, on average, each year British cows kill more people than all the sharks in the world combined.

Bite-Back has also achieved support for this appeal from ocean ambassador Wendy Benchley, widow of Peter Benchley, the author of JAWS. She said: “While the cinema is a place of entertainment, newspapers and media channels are a place for facts. For far too long the news press have blurred the boundaries between fact and fiction and got away with reporting sharks as man-eating monsters when it’s simply not true. I believe this constant portrayal of sharks as the bad guys rather than our ocean heroes is hindering shark conservation efforts.”

In a bid to make Britain the first country in the western world to ban shark products by 2022, Bite-Back has already successfully campaigned for ASDA, Iceland Foods and MAKRO to end the sale of shark steaks. The charity has also spearheaded an 82% fall in the number of restaurants selling shark fin soup across the UK and prompted Holland & Barrett to end the sale of shark cartilage capsules.

Campaign director for Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation, Graham Buckingham, says: “No other creature on this planet is described with inflammatory language intended to spread fear, panic and hate. As a result, the mere presence of a shark in the sea prompts sensational, attention-grabbing headlines. We’re simply looking for the press to represent sharks accurately, fairly and in a way that doesn’t jeopardise our blue planet.”

The charity is now hosting a series of meetings to present its brand new Media Guidelines document to key press.

Help sharks win

On average British cows kill seven people each year whereas sharks kill six. Join us and nominate that fact to win Statistic of the Year and help people see sharks differently.

At the launch of our Mind Your Language campaign we highlighted the unbalanced media reporting of shark encounters by referencing the fact that, on average, British cows killed more people than all the sharks in the world combined. We repeated it in dozens of radio and press interviews and now it’s in the running for the best statistic of the year.

If it wins it will be a huge publicity coup for sharks and shark conservation.

Please nominate the statistic now. It’s going to take just six minutes to complete the Royal Society of Statistics form (a download at the foot of that page) but, to help, we’ve listed the links to the two sources of the statistic.

Cows: The Health & Safety Executive

Sharks: Global Shark Attack file

Please also mention your support for Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation in the notes section. That’s all there is to it.

And, of course, if you ask five friends, colleagues or classmates to fill out the form too, the better the chances are that the sharks will win.

About

This pages principle is to highlight the importance of sharks not only to their ecosystem but how in turn it effects ours believe it or not. Most people have this warped image of what sharks are like-JAWS- but this is a highly mistaken presentation of their actual nature. Most people are either unaware of the action taken to remove them from the ocean or they are mis-informed. So, that’s why I want to contribute to making a change on people’s perceptions about this beautiful and ancient species!

Continue reading “About”