The Earth houses many different species, and one of them is the shark. There are over 465 recorded species of sharks that are swimming in our oceans, and the shark species in general has been around for almost 455 million years. But for many people, this creature evokes fear. Movies (Jaws) and TV (Shark Week) have given sharks a bad reputation for being heartless killers of the sea. And while they technically are, people tend to forget that they are necessary to keeping the oceanic ecosystem alive and we need to save the sharks.
Sharks are apex predators, which means they’re near or at the top of the food chain, so their main function is regulation the species populations below them. Without sharks, certain fish, crustacean, mollusk, plankton, krill, marine mammals and other shark populations would overpopulate.
Smaller predator species, like grouper and manta ray, have grown in population and killed off herbivore species since there are not enough sharks to control the population. With less herbivores, there’s an overabundance of algae that takes over coral reef habitats, taking over homes of other species. Certain seafoods, like scallops and clams, have become more difficult to find because of shark population declines, meaning restaurants have started cutting seafood from their menus and fisheries have closed and laid off workers.
Sharks don’t just help with overpopulation. They are literally the garbage trucks of the ocean, eating all of the sick and dying fish and marine mammals, which means that sickly prey is killed off before is has the chance to spread disease to the whole population.
Sharks are dying at alarming rates because of things like overfishing and climate change. In the overfishing category, sharks are hunted for recreational pleasure, as well as commercially. By far the biggest threat to the shark population, shark finning is an illegal practice where shark’s fins are chopped off and the live shark is thrown back into the sea. The fin meat is used for shark fin soup (an Asian delicacy) or medicines; some bowls of the soup can sell for over $100. Additionally, sharks are caught in fisheries as bycatch, meaning they’re accidentally caught and will be killed.
Like many other oceanic species, sharks are affected by human activities, like commercial development and pollution, in their habitats. With less habitats, the sharks can’t survive and die. As the shark population declines, the oceanic ecosystem is on the brink of collapsing, bringing the economy down with it. Sharks also reproduce slowly, with only one or two pups at a time. This means that after a population depletion, they have trouble recovering numbers.
Instead of being afraid of and killing sharks, we should be appreciating and conserving them. You can protect the sharks by learning more about them and sharing that information with others, working to end the stigma against sharks. You can also support laws banning shark finning, and don’t consume or purchase shark products like shark fin soup, shark leather, or jewelry. Tourism activities like cage diving or scuba diving can provide an excellent way to admire the shark’s beauty, as well as see in person a healthy ecosystem; the shark knowledge and appreciation of divers saves shark lives through advocacy.
Chef Gordon Ramsay has been a long time supporter of the sharks, even making a documentary focused on the illegal shark trade, called Shark Bait. Other celebrities like Nina Dobrev, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Chris Hemsworth all support the sharks and conserving our oceans with various organizations.
F… fin embarrassed.. Ban Shark Fin soup, it tastes of nothing yet destroys their eco system decimating our shark population not smart https://t.co/Qk9RRnGRud
— Gordon Ramsay (@GordonRamsay) May 26, 2017
Don’t let the media scare you into thinking that sharks are these dangerous creatures that have no purpose, because they have a huge one. Without sharks, the ocean would be so overcrowded with species that it couldn’t provide for us the transportation, food, medicine, recreation, climate regulation, air we breath, and other benefits it currently does. So take today to think about what you can do to save the sharks.
Also published on Medium.