Shark Awareness Day 2017 - 50 Million Sharks Are Caught In Nets Every Year!

Shark Awareness Day 2017 - 50 Million Sharks Are Caught In Nets Every Year!

Posted by Phoebe Codling on Jul 14, 2017

The old adage of “It’s more scared of you, than you are of it” couldn’t be more apt whilst discussing Shark Awareness Day, and contrary to popular belief sharks are at far more risk from us, than the other way around. The increased risk from hunting and pollution means that sharks are more at risk than ever, and that folks, is why we’re talking about it today! First up, let’s get the notion that sharks are super dangerous out of our heads – did you know that each year, coconuts are responsible for more deaths than sharks are? Literally, you are more likely to die from a coconut falling on your head than in a shark-related attack – bonkers!

Shark Awareness Day 2017

So, with that excellent piece of trivia out of the way let’s get on with things. So, what do you need to know about sharks? First of all, there are approximately 400 species of shark roaming Earth’s waters, with 31 different species swimming around Great Britain’s shores. Sharks are extremely interesting creatures due to their diversity, I mean, for a start they can range from a tiny 8 inches to a colossal 50 feet in length, that’s a pretty big variation isn’t it?! They also roam in completely different habitats, for instance the Great White Shark prefers shallow coastal waters such as Cape Cod in Massachusetts. On the other hand, the Portuguese Dogfish is on the opposite end of the spectrum, preferring depths of at least 7000 feet, with some being found as far down as 12,000 feet! To put that into perspective, that’s about ten times as high as the Empire State Building! Phew. Now, we’ve all seen Jaws – sharks are famous for being able to detect even the tiniest amount of blood, and sharks are indeed serious predators at the top of the food chain. The vast majority of sharks are carnivorous, feasting on fish and crustaceans. Some larger sharks even eat seals and dolphins. They’re particularly cunning hunters, and tend to ambush them from below. However, some sharks are slightly more chilled out, preferring to munch on plankton rather than fish. One thing we are aware of is that sharks aren’t too picky. They are versatile in their eating habits and will eat whatever is available to them, which can only be a good thing as levels of other sea creatures inevitably decline.

Shark cage diving on shark awareness day 2017

However, despite their ferocity and obvious strength, the levels of sharks in our waters are declining, and we need to be conscious of that and the threats that sharks are facing on a daily basis. 74 species of shark are currently regarded as threatened, with 11 of those considered endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has estimated that a quarter of all shark, ray and chimaera species are threatened with extinction, a very worrying figure. One of the main issues that sharks currently face is the practice of ‘Finning’. Shark finning is a brutal practice, consisting of sharks being captured and having their fin sliced off whilst still alive. Their bodies are then thrown back into the ocean to then perish in the depths. The demand for shark fin soup (a delicacy in China and the Far East) is extremely high, and unfortunately shows no signs of slowing down due to the prices people can charge for the apparent delicacy. A bowl of shark fin soup can easily cost $100, and a kilo of shark fins sells for approximately $700, a price that is highly desirable to fishermen. Fins are also desirable in the Far East due to their apparent medicinal properties, and due to this it’s estimated that around at least 50 million sharks die every single year from finning alone.

Shark Bycatch on Shark Awareness Day 2017

Another major threat to sharks is bycatch. Simply put, fishermen accidentally catch sharks whilst targeting tuna and billfish and get caught up in the nets. Once upon a time, fishermen would have lowered the sharks back into the ocean but with the value of shark fins so high, it makes little sense to not keep them. An estimated 50 million sharks get caught up each year, and with little incentive for fishing boats to reduce the practice and roll out shark avoidance measures, bycatch is becoming a serious issue that is difficult to police. Aside from the direct threats to sharks, the other threat is one that is rife within all ocean life, and that is habitat destruction. As the world’s population increases, coastal development is on the rise and this is destroying natural habitats of sea life all around the world. This in combination with pollution (read all about the threats that face our oceans here), unsustainable reef tourism, and climate change means that sharks are fighting a losing battle, and numbers are steadily declining. Whilst it is difficult to pinpoint specific numbers of the shark population, due to obvious vastness of our wonderful oceans, we do know that numbers have dropped pretty dramatically. It’s estimated that an absolute minimum of 100 million sharks die annually, and numbers of certain species of sharks (such as the Blacktip Shark) have dropped by over 90% - a chilling figure. This is made even worse by the fact that sharks mature fairly slowly. As sharks produce relatively small numbers of offspring, the combination of culling, natural death and the threats outlined above mean that the levels of sharks in our oceans is declining rapidly, and we need to make a change.

Shark Fin on Shark Awareness Day 2017

SO, WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP?

As it is Shark Awareness Day, the most important thing is to be aware and knowledgeable about what is happening to the incredible sharks roaming our oceans today. To educate yourself and others is invaluable, so spread the word! There are several obvious steps you can take, such as recycling your plastic waste and encouraging others to do the same. Sign petitions, and share them on social media or at work/school – word of mouth is a powerful tool. And finally, if you’re more hands on, why not take a look at conservation projects that you can get involved in? There are many diverse projects that offer different types of conservation in every corner of the world, so get on it!


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