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May 18, 2009

Shark Wisdom to Share

Pssst… sharks are important, and they need help. Pass it on.This is the message of Marine biologist David Shiffman of Southern Fried Science, who recently wrote a great post titled, “Four things EVERYONE needs to know about sharks.”After reading it, we agree — everyone should know about the importance of sharks and the threats they face. Thanks for laying it out like this, David, we need more enthusiastic shark conservationists like you. Here’s an excerpt of the post: 1) Sharks do not represent a serious threat to human beings. Yes, some people have died as a result of shark encounters, and any human death is a tragedy, but it is important to keep in mind the relative risk of a shark attack. Of the over 500 species of sharks worldwide, fewer than a dozen have ever been known to kill a human. In an average year, over 650,000 Americans die as a result of heart disease, giving me a 1 in 5 chance of dying of heart disease in my lifetime … In an average year, 1 American dies from a shark attack, giving me a 1 in 3,748,067 chance of dying from a shark attack in my lifetime.2) Sharks are important to the health of the oceans. Without them, many ocean ecosystems, including several that are vital to the economy, are in danger of collapsing. This collapse would have devastating ecological and economic consequences… and some of these consequences have already started to happen. In addition to providing natural selection pressure and allowing only the fittest to survive by preying upon the weakest, sickest, and smallest fish, sharks are also important to marine ecosystems in other ways.In the Outer Banks of North Carolina, tiger shark populations have declined over 97% since 1972. One of their prey items, the cownose ray, has skyrocketed in population without tiger sharks to eat them. These cownose rays eat scallops… and with so many more rays, the scallop population of the Outer Banks has all but collapsed. This is bad news not only for the numerous other organisms that eat scallops, but also for the thousands of people who used to work as scallop fisherman.3) Sharks are in serious trouble.Many shark species have declined in population over 90% in the last 25 years.Bycatch is one of the biggest threats facing sharks. While fishing for other species, sharks are caught by accident and are killed.Another major threat facing sharks is finning. Sharks of many species are caught, their fins are cut off, and the still-living rest of the shark (far less valuable than the fin) is dumped overboard to bleed to death or drown. This brutal and unsustainable practice provides material for shark fin soup, a Chinese delicacy associated with celebration. The fins, which are made of cartilage, add absolutely no flavor or nutritional value whatsoever to the soup. By some estimates, over 100 million sharks a year are killed for their fins.4) Human beings are better off with sharks than we are without sharks and we are in danger of losing them forever…but you can help! The absolute most important thing that you can do to help, you are already doing just by reading this. Learn all you can about sharks, their ecological and economic importance, and the threats they face. Pass on what you have learned to others. Public education will help far more sharks than these guys ever will. The more people that know about this, the better off sharks will be!