Written by Thalia Lantin, Student in the Rutgers Department of Environmental Engineering
Did you know that most shark species are at risk of extinction? Since the 1970s, researchers have concluded that shark populations have fallen by 71%. Three quarters of these species are endangered, threatened with extinction. The principal cause? Overfishing.
It isn’t hard to believe that these striking top predators are crucial to the natural order of marine ecosystems. But did you know that they outlived the dinosaurs and many other species currently on Earth? The fossil record shows that sharks evolved over 400 million years ago! This fact alone should make society value their ecological benefits and strive to protect them. So why is it that sharks aren’t getting the respect that they deserve, and are instead being hunted to a point where their population is rapidly declining? Humans have always been hunting for food, and the exploitation of sharks as a source of food is no exception. With the demand for shark meat and fins increasing as time goes on, we are faced with the harsh reality that many shark species are nearing extinction.
As part of the Global FinPrint Project*, Aaron MacNeil, a biologist from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, led a group of researchers to conduct a survey of 371 tropical reefs across 58 countries to record the abundance of reef sharks. Their results showed that the shark population was “functionally extinct” at 20% of the tested sites. They also noticed that the locations where the shark populations were most depleted were the areas where there existed fewer government restrictions on fishing, in addition to a high density of humans living in the area. Because of sharks’ slow rate of growth and reproduction, it is difficult for them to bounce back from overfishing. Sharks just aren’t reproducing as fast as the fishermen are hunting them, which is causing their detrimental population decline.
So how can we fix this problem? Is there any way we can save the sharks? Don’t worry; we still have time to act! No matter the impact--big or small--we can always help to make a difference. The most important thing we can do is give full protection to the areas where sharks are in decline - this will give them a change to reproduce and bounce back. Studies have shown that the areas with good governance have the strongest shark populations. Additionally, restricting certain types of fishing gear, as well as locations where fishing is allowed, will also have a big impact on the issue. Moreover, instituting a catch limit will help too! And the way you personally can help save the sharks is by spreading awareness to get more people involved, so don’t be afraid to share what you’ve learned!
It’s disheartening to hear what has been done to these majestic creatures, but it’s better that we know now rather than later so that there is still time left to save them! Sharks deserve all the respect they can get, no matter how scary some of them may seem. Don’t forget--sharks are “JAW-some”!
*Global FinPrint project - a project launched in 2015 to survey marine life around the world’s coral reefs
McGreevy, Nora (2020, July 28). Reef Sharks are in Serious Danger of Extinction. Retrieved February 16, 2021 from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/reef-sharks-are-serious-danger-extinction-says-new-study-180975427/
Stokstad, Erik et al. (2021, January 27). Most High-Seas Shark Species Now Threatened With Extinction. Retrieved February 16, 2021 from https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/01/most-high-seas-shark-species-now-threatened-extinction
World Wildlife.org. “Facts”. Retrieved February 16, 2021 from https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/shark