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April 13, 2006

Sharks in peril

BY: Nilanga

It’s spring break time in the US and vacationers from all over the nation are heading down to the beaches of Florida. Millions of beachgoers languish on the sand, wade in the water and swim out with the currents. They also share the space with ocean natives, sharks. Swimmers know to watch for the tell-tale dorsal fin cutting through the water, but contrary to popular perception, shark attacks are relatively rare in Florida as in most of the world.  In  fact, most attacks have been non-fatal encounters where the victims sustained hand and foot injuries. On average, shark bites (tragically) cause the death of  between 2 and 10  people each year.  

What is less well known is that experts estimate that “human attacks” on sharks result in 100 to 200 million shark deaths each year. Most are not killed so that people can eat shark fillets. Instead, when they are intentionally caught, they are killed for their fins to make shark fin soup, or for their use as an ingredient in facial creams. Other times, they simply die as bycatch (i.e. not the fish the fishermen wanted or intended to catch) when they get caught up in nets and longlines and are simply thrown back into the ocean — injured, dead or dying. Unfortunately, in much of the world(the EU for example), sharks aren’t even considered fish — so governments don’t keep track of how many are disappearing. This is a huge problem — sharks have been one of the top predators on the earth since before the dinosaurs. As a top predator in the ocean’s food web, their survival is crucial to the health of the ocean.