Beautiful and elegant creatures of the sea, sharks have commonly been perceived as vicious, man-eating creatures by us human beings; perceptions further intensified by movies and television shows. However, what would you say if you learned that sharks are the real victims here? Just because there is no movie that shows how sharks may be the victims at the hands of insensitive human beings, it does not mean they should be forgotten, or that their plight shouldn't be looked into. Sharks are on the brink of extinction with studies reporting their numbers all over the world being lower than those of tigers. This news is anything but good, and unless we ourselves take some measures and find out why sharks are endangered and spread awareness, things could only get worse.
Why are Sharks on the Brink of Extinction?
Sharks are very powerful predators of the sea, and they feed primarily on fish, dolphins, and seals found underwater. That they are only man-hunting creatures is a myth. Studies have reported that more often than not, sharks attack humans either by error of perception (assuming them to be seals), or when they think they are threatened by them. Sharks take a long time to grow and breed. On the other hand, their disappearance from the underwater food chain is increasing at a very alarming rate. What is the reason for this? Let's take a look.
To Prepare Delicacies
Shark fin soup is a delicacy in south-east Asian countries, and is becoming increasingly popular all over the world. So, what fishermen do is catch sharks, slice off their fins, and leave them to die at sea. The fins are then exported to various countries to make this exotic delicacy that people enjoy, blissfully unaware of the misery that the sharks have gone through. Sharks are also killed for their teeth and their cartilage, which is used as a medicinal product in China, and as aphrodisiac in Japan. Reports indicate that up to 73 million sharks are killed in a year solely for this purpose.
Fishermen who set traps to catch other fish usually end up with sharks that got enticed by the bait. This is because of the method of fishing that is used to catch fish such as the swordfish and tuna. By using a gear known as the pelagic longlines that has one single strand with about 1500 hooks of bait and is about 10 to 40 miles long, fishermen accidentally trap sharks such as the shortfin Mako and the blue fin sharks.
Attacks on their Prey
An indirect effect on the sharks and their life cycles, overfishing of their prey such as tuna and other types of fish are also leading them to the brink of extinction. The less there is to eat in the sea, the more difficult it will be for sharks to survive. This is one of the reasons sharks have been migrating to various areas, thereby catering to the perception that there are still many more sharks in the sea. However, a tagging system started in Australia where the movement of these sharks is monitored shows that it is the same sharks that have been traveling to different areas to survive.
Destruction of their Habitat
Finally, it is the destruction of their habitat that has led to their endangered status. Water pollution, destruction of the mangroves and reefs that make for their breeding grounds, areas where young sharks are allowed to grow, and to hunt for prey, have all contributed to the reducing number of sharks worldwide.
Measures have been taken by countries such as the United States of America and the European Union to ban shark finning and their use for commercial purposes. Shark sanctuaries have been started to protect endangered sharks and allow them to grow in a natural, healthy habitat. However, changes need to be implemented at a global level to make a real difference to the waning numbers of various shark breeds. A little awareness on part of us humans, combined with an education of sharks in terms of their habitat, their diet, their life cycle, and their role in the marine ecosystem will help us reduce the atrocities (intentional or unintentional) meted out to sharks, and save this beautiful creature.