Our Living Seas

Sharks

WORLDWIDE

Sharks have inhabited the Earth’s seas, substantially unchanged, for 400 million years. There are over 400 known species of sharks, found in all seas, common down to depths of 2,000 meters (6,600 feet). Well known species include the great white shark, tiger shark, blue shark, mako shark, thresher shark, hammerhead shark, and whale shark.

Compared to other fish, sharks tend to grow more slowly, reach maturity at a larger size and later age, and have lower reproductive rates. These traits make them especially vulnerable to over exploitation and slow to recover from depletion. Over 100 million sharks are killed each year by long-lines, recreational fishing, and the barbaric practice known as shark finning. Shark finning involves removing a shark’s fins with a hot metal blade after it has been caught, then returning the finless shark back into the water, often while it is still alive, because it is economically beneficial to use the limited space on a vessel to store the valuable fins rather than to fill the boat with the low-priced meat of the shark’s body. Unable to swim or pass water over its gills to breathe, the shark dies slowly from suffocation, blood loss, or predation. 95% of the animal is wasted, and any shark is taken, regardless of age, size, or species, mostly to feed the growing appetite for shark fin soup in Asia.

Shark finning is not only inhumane; it allows sharks to be caught in unsustainable numbers, which has placed immense pressure on vulnerable populations. By some estimates, 90% of the world’s shark population has already been wiped out, and they continue to be hunted to extinction. In my lifetime, a nanosecond in evolutionary terms, I have witnessed huge declines in shark populations in areas that were once thriving with sharks. As shark numbers decline, the predator-prey natural food web completely changes: Sharks feed on species that prey on algae eaters. When sharks decrease, the predators of algae eaters increase, and the algae eaters decrease. When the algae eaters decrease, there is an accumulation of algae that will cover the reefs, choking the entire ecosystem to death. The loss of an entire reef ecosystem would be devastating to all of us.

As apex predators, the depletion of sharks poses substantial risks to the health of entire marine ecosystems. We cannot wait. HELP STOP SHARK FINNING NOW! We must stop the mindless slaughter of these magnificent creatures before it is too late. Get involved, and please donate to the shark conservation organization of your choice.