Updated: Oct 3
28th September 2020
Sharks are some of the most majestic yet highly misunderstood creatures of the ocean. Over the last few decades, the world has observed a sharp decline in shark population — and the urgency to save this species has never been higher.
Sharks are predators that dominate the aquatic food chain. They are an essential part of the oceanic ecosystems, feeding on sick or old creatures to ensure ‘survival of the fittest’. After roaming the waters of earth for over four-hundred million years, several shark species have recently been reduced by over ninety per cent.
In a recent study conducted on three-hundred and seventy-one reefs across fifty-eight countries, scientists found that over one-fifth of these reefs are devoid of sharks. Biologist Aaron MacNeil and his colleagues had set up more than fifteen-thousand baited cameras — only to find that many of the sharks were often missing from the reefs where they had historically lived.
The main reason for shark disappearances can be credited to overfishing due to the high demand for shark fin soup in different parts of the world. Sharks are captured for their fins, sometimes illegally even. They are thrown back to the ocean finless, where they are helplessly left to die on the ocean floor. A lot of times, sharks are caught unintentionally in nets meant for other fish — as bycatch. These sharks are merely discarded and die for no reason.
Sharks take a relatively long time to grow and reproduce. The numbers of offspring they produce are low as well, making them especially vulnerable to extinction. The rate at which they are killed is much higher than the rate at which they can recover their population.
The situation is not entirely hopeless, yet. Managing and regulating the shark fishing done and using more shark friendly equipment while fishing could help the declining numbers recover. Some countries like the Bahamas have outlawed all commercial trade of shark products — and this stance is slowly spreading around the world.
Shark Week is an annual, week-long event on the Discovery Channel that educates masses about sharks and clears misconceptions created around them. A lot of misconceptions are created by the media — through movies where sharks are portrayed as ‘dangerous’ and ‘blood-thirsty creatures’. In reality, an average of ten people pass away from shark attacks per year — a blatant contrast to the hundred million sharks that die due to human activities annually.
Shark populations are in dire need of preservation. Since human interventions are the root cause for their dwindling numbers, it is upon us to raise awareness and do our part in ensuring these species are conserved.
(Sources: National Geographic, World Wildlife Fund, Texas A&M) Edited by Meghna Venkatesh