More Sharks in Peril…   Leave a comment

If I add 9 new sharks to the list of species on Elasmodiver it means that I have had some great opportunities to shoot new shark pictures in the wild. It is a cause for celebration.

When the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) add 9 new sharks to their list it is a bad day for sharks. The red list is a compilation of all of the world’s animals that are endangered. The list represents the indisputable findings of the international scientific community and does not rely on speculation or probability. On top of the IUCN listings there are probably even more species that are also critically endangered but there is not enough data to prove it.

Sadly today the IUCN announced that 9 more sharks will soon be added to the red list including the scalloped hammerhead shark which was once commonly seen in enormous schools close to many offshore seamounts. These new species will bring the total number of sharks on the list to 135.

Hammerheads are particularly vulnerable because of their predictable seasonal congregations and because their fins contain a very high concentration of fibers that are used in the production of shark fin soup. Consequently, they are heavily targeted. Researchers now believe that scalloped hammerhead populations have plummeted by a staggering 99%.

As an individual I often feel ineffectual in the fight to save endangered shark species. My images have been used by the Shark Alliance, the World Wildlife Fund, Sea Shepherd and many others to publicize the plight of these majestic and incredibly important creatures but while the heavyweights go to war to force through protective legislation, millions of sharks continue to die at the hands fishermen on the high seas.

It appears that after 400 million years of shaping our environment, sharks have finally found an insurmountable obstacle laying in the way of their continued survival.

As the last sharks swim into history some people will no doubt rejoice believing that the world will be a safer place but this attitude stems from ignorance. Removing sharks from the oceans will allow vastly more dangerous animals to rule our seas. Voracious Humboldt Squid have already begun to extend their range and can now be found in record numbers along the coast of Baja and California. And some bony fishes (also usually over fished) will soon have no natural predators to keep their populations healthy and in check.

Let me lay it out in a simplified way…

The sharks physiology limits the amount of offspring that it can produce. Blue sharks are one of the most prolific species but even they can only give birth to one hundred or so pups. On the other hand, apex bony fishes can lay eggs in the tens of thousands. Imagine the havoc that an explosion of barracuda could have on a population of reef fish. Anything large enough to become a meal would be wiped out within a very short time leaving only the smallest fishes to enjoy their own population explosion.

In the same way that the barracuda would decimate their food supply, so would their tiny cousins and there lies the really enormous problem. Very small fish eat plankton.

There are two types of plankton: zoo plankton which is composed of all the microscopic animals that drift around at the mercy of the currents and phytoplankton which consists of microscopic plants. If the population of tiny fish gets out of control they will begin to deplete our plankton supplies.

So what. Maybe a few whales will go hungry right? Wrong! Not only is plankton the building block of the entire marine ecosystem, phytoplankton is responsible for the production of most of the oxygen that we breathe. No plankton; no breathable air. Now tell me that we are better off without sharks.

I will continue to write letters to politicians, loudly boycott restaurants that sell shark fin soup or salad, sign anti-finning petitions, and try to capture memorable images of the worlds endangered sharks whenever my finances permit it. What will you do for sharks (and yourselves) today?

 

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

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Posted February 25, 2008 by Andy Murch in Environment, Nature, Sharks, Uncategorized

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