Shark Week 2018
Time to give sharks their “15 minutes of fame” for the year. In honor of Shark Week, the Fair Harbor team wanted to share a little bit about how ocean plastics are harming sharks and the entire marine system. While sharks may appear terrifying with their large teeth, streamlined bodies, and hunting power, they are key players in ocean ecosystems all over the world. It is no surprise that most shark species are considered top predators in the food chain and as such they keep fish populations healthy and in balance.
Certain species of sharks and whale sharks have recently been discovered to be victims of plastic pollution. Especially at risk are the massive whale sharks because they are filter feeders. As discussed in an earlier blog post, plastic debris in the ocean is broken down into micro-plastics due to wave action and UV radiation. These fragments can be so small that a microscope is needed to see them and because this species of shark intakes so much sea water everyday, they are ingesting large quantities of plastic everyday. According to an article written by The Guardian, these micro-plastics create health issues in these animals that make it that much harder for them to deal with all of the other threats they face. This added stress could be bringing these creatures that much closer to extinction.
Although plastic pollution is a huge issue, it is important to realize that there are many other factors causing shark populations to rapidly decline. In popular culture sharks have been demonized as killing machines, when in reality humans pose a much greater threat. Sharks kill an average of 12 people per year, while humans kill an average of 11,417 sharks per hour. It is estimated that 1/3rd of all shark species are considered endangered and this is largely due to overfishing by humans. The growing trade in shark fins, which are used in shark fin soup in some asian countries, has become a serious threat for sharks. A fisherman can make an absurd amount of money from such a small piece of the shark that they will cut the fins from the live sharks and leave the body behind. It is a brutal practice that kills up to 100 million sharks every year. Also, sharks are often caught unintentionally as by-catch in nets meant for other fish and because there is no market for shark meat in most parts of the world, they will often just be discarded.
While international fishing regulations (or lack thereof) may seem like a daunting issue to fix, there are so many ways every person can help protect sharks. Educate yourself and others to dispel the myths created by popular culture, boycott shark products and do not try shark fin soup if it is offered to you. Reduce your use of single-use plastics, write to legislators if you live in coastal areas, and donate and volunteer with shark conservation organizations like Project AWARE and Shark Trust. And on that note….Happy Shark Week 2018.
Written by: Tati Stroud