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treat every week like it’s Shark Week

 Photo by: Jakob Owens

Author: Rebecca Schmidtke

Have you always found sharks to be scary, people-munching creatures of the deep? Well did you know that sharks are actually integral for the survival of the ocean’s diverse and fragile ecosystem? bare market blogger Rebecca shares why we need to take another look at sharks and what we can do to help them survive to preserve our oceans. 


Well it’s the most wonderful time of the year - Shark Week was just here! Ever since Jaws’ release, sharks have been a source of morbid fascination and entertainment. The Discovery Channel’s pop culture phenomenon, Shark Week, capitalizes on our curiosity  with some of the world’s deadliest predator; providing everything from educational programs to cheesy entertainment pieces. During Shark Week we invite these creatures into our homes and our TV (and computer screens) for one week every year, but do we ever consider how important they are to our planet? While entertaining, sharks also play a critical role in our environment. 

what's the issue? 

Sharks are some of the oldest living organisms in the world; they have been around for at least 400 million years (!!), even before the dinosaurs roamed, and hopefully they’ll continue to survive on our planet for many more years to come. I say hopefully because currently over 100 million sharks are being killed each year, a rate that is totally unprecedented and unnecessary. Sharks are being killed as a direct result of human action.

Many countries still allow shark finning and other unsustainable fishing practices. Commercial fishing and the use of equipment like longlines not only catch fish but also catch sharks as a ‘bycatch’. Sharks caught as bycatch are usually thrown back overboard and left to die. Commercial fishing also causes major damage to marine ecosystems, killing the natural habitats of sharks and other marine life. On top of this, sharks are hunted for their skin to make leather goods, to be used in cosmetics, and for food like shark fin soup. Hunting sharks for shark fin soup is incredibly unethical as it involves cutting the fins off of sharks and throwing them back into the ocean to die. Many countries allow shark finning or have unregulated laws and are complicit in the slaughter of millions of sharks each year. Fishing and environmental degradation are the direct causes of the decrease in shark populations. While there is good news to be celebrated (like Canada banning shark finning) there is still a lot of work to be done.

so why should we care? 

Many people I’ve talked to seem to think of sharks in the way they’ve been represented on TV: as dangerous, mysterious, and deadly creatures of the deep. Most people don’t realize how important sharks are to our marine ecosystems and therefore to our global environment. 

As apex predators they help maintain the food chain and the biodiversity of marine ecosystems. They do this as they are at the top of the food chain and they keep all of the species below them in order; they form the picking order of the seas and keep populations in check. Without them other predatory species could begin to overpopulate making their habitats at risk for invasive species which could affect the natural balance causing the decline in other populations and environmental degradation. What makes this situation even more dire is that Sharks are found in every ocean on Earth and the decline in population affects all of these environments, it’s not just an isolated incident this means all of the earth’s oceans are at risk without sharks. Therefore, sharks are imperative for maintaining balance in our oceans; sharks are the lifeline of the seas.

Photo by: Jeremy Bishop

 

Oceans and marine ecosystems are vital to our global environment. Oceans cover 71% of the earth’s surface, contain 97% of the earth’s water, and sea plants produce up to 70% of the planet’s oxygen. Sharks can be used as a marker on how healthy our oceans are.  In addition to overfishing, pollution, seeping into our oceans from plastic products and other waste humans create destroys sharks’ natural habitats and contaminates their food sources.  This makes them at greater risk for death and disease; as almost every element of their lives is put at risk by human action. The decline in shark populations has led to a decline in everything from coral reefs to healthy fish populations and fisheries.  By conserving shark populations we are conserving our oceans and vice versa; put this way, sharks are not only key to the ocean’s survival, but our survival as well. 

what can I do to help? 

During Shark Week, awareness for shark conservation grows but this needs to be extended beyond just this one week.  

 

5 fast facts to break out at your next party 

i.e. an easy - and fun - way to start spreading awareness about sharks!

  1. Sharks are cartilaginous. What makes sharks different from fish is that their skeletons are made completely of cartilage instead of bone.
  2. Sharks communicate through body language. Some common communications involve zigzag swimming, head shaking, hunched backs, and head butts.
  3. Humans kill 100 million sharks a year. That means for every single person killed by a shark, humans kill 25 million sharks
  4. Most sharks do not like the taste of humans, so they most often just take a bite and swim away disinterested.
  5. The frilled shark, or eel shark, is called a “living fossil” because it is so much like some extinct sharks that are found preserved in rocks. Parts of its skeleton resemble those of sharks that became extinct 350 million years ago

 

Author Bio: Rebecca Schmidtke graduated from Queen's Univerity with a degree in Global Development. She currently works in the Non-For-Profit Sector and volunteers with Amnesty International. Rebecca has always been passionate about the environment and strongly believes that climate action is the only forward to create long-lasting sustainable development. She believes that empowering people to take climate action into their own hands through education and political activism is one way we can all be engaged with fighting climate change and work towards a better and greener future.

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