ARE BEING ATTACKED ALL OVER THE WORLD
July 12, 2009
"shark attacks" has taken on a new and ominous meaning. The
number of people bitten each year by sharks is minuscule. Attacks on sharks
by humans, however, have reached unacceptable levels around the world,
putting some of these great predators on the threshold of extinction.
We are killing more than a half million tons of sharks each year.
Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature
(IUCN) has published alarming news about the conservation status of more
than 60 species of sharks and rays that inhabit the world's oceans. Almost
one-third have been classified as "threatened with extinction."
For species that restrict their activities to the high seas, seldom approaching
coastal waters, the proportion is even higher; more than half are threatened
with extinction. The loss of even a single species of these awesome carnivores
would diminish the world's wonders. The loss of more than 20 species would
experts give various reasons for the decline in some species. One reason
is that shark fisheries are not sustainable industries because of the
animals' life history. Most sharks produce few young; juveniles grow slowly;
and sharks tend "to take many years to mature." This means a
population cannot replenish itself quickly. Despite this, sharks are overfished
and underprotected, with few regulations that apply in international waters.
On the high seas, no international catch limits apply for sharks. Furthermore,
new markets are opening for shark meat, one of the most appalling being
an Asian delicacy known as shark fin soup.
shark fins for this unsustainable luxury, fishermen cut off the fins of
captured sharks then throw the body back into the ocean. The process,
called "finning," has no redeeming qualities whether one considers
it from the perspective of animal rights, population ecology, or the ocean
ecosystem. According to the IUCN report "finning has been banned
in most international waters, but enforcement standards are lenient. The
EU [European Union] finning ban is among the weakest in the world."
rays, and skates belong to a subclass of vertebrates known as the Elasmobranchs,
which have cartilaginous skeletons. Many are magnificent, awe-inspiring
creatures. Among the globally endangered species that are familiar to
most people are hammerhead sharks. The great hammerhead shark, which can
reach a length of 20 feet, has a diet that includes other sharks, squid,
and stingrays. Hammerhead attacks on humans are rare; sadly, the reverse
is not true. The relentless assault on hammerheads by the shark fishery
industry could drive the species to extinction within a few years.
for the steady decline of hammerhead sharks is that they "are highly
desired for shark fin soup. Millions of hammerheads end up in the Hong
Kong fin market each year." The meat of these sharks, however, is
generally viewed as unpalatable; so the hammerhead carcasses are simply
cast aside. Spain and Portugal are two of the top three shark-fishing
nations, yet the EU places no limits on the catch of hammerhead sharks.
As a result of the shark fin soup craze, lax fishing regulations, and
loose enforcement of existing laws, hammerhead sharks are disappearing
from the world's oceans. This is inexcusable.
species that is hanging on by a fin is the giant devil ray or devil fish,
the enormous ray of the Mediterranean region. With a wingspan that can
reach 17 feet and a body length of 21 feet, one of these spectacular animals
leaping from the water might be a model for interstellar spacecraft. The
greatest human-caused mortality to devil rays is accidental capture in
longlines, driftnets, purse-seines, and traps set for other species. But
death by accident is no less lethal than deliberate slaughter. Like some
other Elasmobranchs, rays cannot replace their numbers quickly. A female
devil ray produces only one offspring at a time, often at intervals of
two years. That's not enough recruitment to replace individuals being
removed every year by uncontrolled, unregulated oceanic fishing.
self-indulgent dietary preferences in some cultures and weak or unenforced
regulations on ocean fisheries are threatening the sharks and rays of
the world. We need to make our protests heard before we lose some of the
world's most extraordinary creatures.
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