I met my first shark when I was 16 years old: a male blacktip reef shark off the coast of North Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. As I got older, the sharks got progressively larger, including bull sharks, tiger sharks, whale sharks and even the majestic great white. In my nine years as a diver, I’ve clocked more than 100 dives with sharks, and rather than feeling in danger, I’ve fallen deeply in love.
Despite their negative reputation in the media, sharks pose little to no threat to human beings in the wild – there are no more than 100 reported shark attacks around the world each year, with fewer than 10 fatal ones. Sadly, media publications have often exploited tragic incidents and labelled sharks as “man-eaters”, “rogue killers” and “lurking predators”.
With more than 75 million sharks killed every year for food and sport, human beings have solidified themselves as the true predator in the ocean. Where sharks once roamed healthy oceans, the species is now a rarity in a nearly dead sea. The endangered shark species include the giant great white shark, of whom there are as few as 2,500 individuals left.
The consumption of shark fins is the primary cause of decline in vital shark populations worldwide, threatening a delicate pelagic ecosystem relied upon by all marine species, including whales, dolphins, seals, turtles and fish.
Fished from the ocean ecosystem, live sharks are disfigured – their fins sold to a high-end Asian market whilst their meat is consumed as cheap fish product (“flake”) throughout the Western world. Sharks are alive when fishers begin to remove their fins, and they often suffocate when their motionless, breathing bodies are tossed back into the ocean.
Severely threatening a delicate ocean balance, up to 100 million sharks may be fished from the sea every year for their fins, averaging 10,000 sharks per hour.
The importance of the shark to our world’s oceans is immeasurable. Apex predators like the shark regulate symbiotic marine structures unlike any other species. They manage healthy ecosystems by feeding on the animals who exist beneath them in the pelagic food web, supporting a sensitive marine hierarchy that safeguards countless other marine species and the ocean ecosystem.
Without sharks, scientists predict an irreversible prevalence of unbridled predation, resulting in a devastating loss of important sea structure. Affected species include seals, sea lions, whales, fish, turtles and dolphins, including orcas.
Learn more about the plights of sharks and go shark-fin–free today.
Guest blog by Elissa Sursara, an Australian ecologist, journalist and filmmaker working on behalf of endangered species and threatened habitats. You can follow Elissa on Twitter and Facebook and learn more about conservation on her website.