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Sharks belong in the ocean

Despite having to overcome a nasty reputation thanks to the movie Jaws and its haunting theme song, shark conservation has been making steady progress. Protecting animals that sometimes attack people is a tough sell, but the truth is that a balanced, healthy ocean ecosystem needs sharks.

“We are putting ourselves at risk whenever we enter a wild animal’s domain, whether it’s sharks, grizzly bears or lions,” said CMA Director Mike Schaadt. “Shark attacks are truly horrible, but the more we learn, the more evidence points to shark attacks being a case of mistaken identity. Great whites attack a seal or sea lion and then wait for it to bleed out and tire before coming back again for a second attack. After one bite of a person, the shark rarely comes back.”

And while shark attacks are scary, the reality is that sharks are not lying in wait offshore ready to pounce on swimmers as the movie Jaws would have you believe. In fact, people have a much greater chance of being killed by a falling coconut than being attacked and killed by a shark. Based on the numbers, sharks have many more reasons to be afraid than we do.

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year compared to approximately 100 shark attacks with typically less than 20 being fatal. Sharks across the world are losing their lives to supply the demand for shark fin soup, which has led to a drastic decline in shark populations and great shifts in ocean ecosystems.

“As a top predator, sharks are keystone species and play a key role in keeping coastal ocean habitats balanced. Anytime a top predator disappears, the outcome is almost always negative,” explained CMA Chief Aquarist Jeff Landesman. “Sharks used to be common in Chesapeake Bay and preyed on the cownose ray, which eats clams and oysters. Now sharks have mostly disappeared and there is no other animal to keep cownose rays in check, which is causing real problems for oyster farmers.”

Thankfully, California has been making strides in shark conservation. In 2000, gillnet fishing was prohibited near shore in water less than 360 feet deep to protect common murres (a seabird) and sea otters. Gillnet fishing uses huge nets that hang in the water like a wall indiscriminately catching everything that runs into them. Moving these nets further offshore prevented sharks as well as many other animals from getting caught and killed.

On July 1, 2013, a California state law prohibiting the sale, possession, trade or distribution of shark fins went into effect. This means it’s not legal to sell shark fin soup in California, which is another big step forward in shark conservation. The law places California in good company with other states that have passed shark fin bans including Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Maryland and Delaware.

“Slowly, but surely shark conservation is moving in the right direction,” said Schaadt. “Shark research is crucial because the more we know the better information and advice we can provide to swimmers on where it’s safest to swim during certain times of the year. Sharks are part of a healthy ocean and we can’t have one without the other.”

Post Date: Sunday, October 27, 2013

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