When you think of sharks, you think of the terrifying Great White from the movie Jaws. Well actually, sharks come in all different shapes and sizes and humans aren’t on any of their menus. This misunderstanding has led to the allowance of over 100 million sharks being killed every year! With many species on the brink of extinction, and our existence dependant upon theirs, it’s more important than ever to educate everyone on the significance of sharks and why we have to fight for them. Shark attacks are incredibly rare with roughly 65 shark attacks worldwide each year; a handful are fatal. You are more likely to be killed by a dog, snake or in a car collision with a deer. Your chances of being attacked are 1 in 11.5 million, and even then, sharks are incredibly intelligent and often give signs to warn you that they have had enough of your company. They are not the heartless killers everyone believes.

The Importance Of Sharks

Sharks play an incredibly important role in the oceans in a way that average fish do not. Sharks are at the top of the food chain in almost every part of every ocean. They keep populations of other fish healthy and in proportion for their ecosystem and have done for over 450 million years!

Sharks keep the food web in balance, as they are incredibly efficient eaters. They often go after the slow, old and sick fish, which keeps the population healthy and by removing the sick and weak, they also prevent the spread of disease. As sharks are at the top of the chain, by removing them, it causes the entire structure to collapse. For example, in the sea off the Mid Atlantic, shark populations were destroyed. As a result of this, Cownose Rays, a former shark prey, grew out of control. The rays depleted the scallops, ending a 100 year old scallop fishery. We often forget how sharks affect the bottom of the chain too. Sharks in fact keep sea grass beds and vital habitats healthy by regulating the behaviour of prey species and prevent them from overgrazing vital habitats. Sharks are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides 1/3 of our world with food, produces more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, removes half of the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) and controls out planet’s temperature and weather.
  • Importance Of Sharks | Georgina Monti
Sharks are also influencing the economy through ecotourism. In the Bahamas, a single live Reef Shark is worth $250,000 as a result of dive tourism, compared to a one time value of $50 when caught by a fisherman. One Whale Shark in Belize can bring in $2 million over its lifetime!

@oceanicramsey dives between a school of feeding whale sharks Photographed by| @juansharks

A photo posted by Sharks Daily (@sharksdaily) on

Why are shark numbers decreasing so drastically?

The shark fin trade is one of the number one killers of sharks. In places like Asia, China and Japan, shark fin soup is a delicacy and is a symbol of status. The saddest part is, the fin doesn’t add any taste or flavour to the soup, it’s a ridiculous tradition that is putting our world and oceans in jeopardy. Shark is actually dangerous to our health also. Sharks are large animals that grow slowly and live for a long time, this means they accumulate dangerously high levels of Mercury! If you google Mercury poisoning, you’d be horrified! Salesmen also try and claim it cures all sorts of diseases, but once again, this is a myth and is not true. Shark fin fishermen catch the shark, cut its fins off whilst it is still alive, and then throw the mutilated body back into the ocean to drown, as sharks cannot survive without swimming forward. It’s a barbaric and awful process. Another huge killer for sharks and other aquatic life is fishing nets and bycatch. Bycatch Is any species of fish, invertebrate, or marine mammal that is unintentionally caught while fishing for a specific ‘target’ species. This unwanted catch is usually thrown back into the sea dead or dying, unless there is some perceived value and now makes up around 50% of the sharks caught and killed every year! Tuna fishing is also a huge problem. As valuable tuna such as bluefin, bigeye, yellowfin and albacore are on the brink of extinction, sharks now represent 80-90% of the overall catch in some large industrial tuna fisheries. Japan alone is responsible for catching $ 6,000,000,000 worth of illegal Southern bluefin tuna in the past two decades. How many sharks were caught as bycatch?

However, it’s not all doom and gloom as many places are now enforcing new laws to protect sharks! We just need the rest of the world to follow pursuit!

What Can We Do To Help?

  • Stop eating tuna – By eating tuna, you are contributing to the destruction of sharks. Also cut out sushi and the oceans will be a far healthier and shark friendly place.
  • Petitions – Sometimes you can feel very small and helpless, but together we can all make a difference. Signing petitions whether it is encouraging airlines and cargo companies to stop shipping shark fin to protection laws in place for sharks. Petitions do work as many airlines and companies have now banned shark fins and refuse to transport them.
  • Boycott anywhere that serves shark fin soup and let them know why you are boycotting.
  • Educate – people don’t realise how important sharks are to our ecosystem, so if you see a local fisherman bringing in a shark, explain if there are no sharks, the entire ecosystem collapses, meaning no fish either.
  • Donate where you can – There are many companies that offer a percentage of their profits to shark conservation charities. When pondering what gift to buy your beloved, make it count!
  • Check your labels! – The local restaurants, grocery stores, health food stores, beauty salons and even pet stores may sell shark. You may even be consuming shark and not realizing it. And, chances are also good your country is also responsible for the supply. Shocked? Believe it. The US, UK, France, Spain, and Portugal join Indonesia, Taiwan and Japan in the top 20 largest shark fishing nations.
  • Keep sharks out of your beauty products – Squalene is the main one used in beauty products (including makeup, lotions and deodorants) and is shark liver oil. You can vote with your wallet and avoid these companies!
  • Share – Share your knowledge and posts in person and on social media. Social media has a huge audience and you can help make a change. Even if it’s sharing a picture with an informative quote on it or a petition, this all makes a huge difference and can help save our planet.
  • Importance Of Sharks | Georgina Monti