Since the release of Spielberg’s blockbuster Jaws in the summer of 1975, sharks have largely been viewed as creatures to be feared. But the truth is that these fascinating animals are the ones who should fear us. With the increase popularity of shark finning, we are killing around 100 million sharks every year pushing them closer and closer to extinction. Last year 8 people were killed by sharks, more people were killed in selfie-related accidents.
For most divers, getting the chance to dive with sharks is an unforgettable and exhilarating experience. As divers, we have the responsibility to shout about how important sharks are to our environment and diminish those unnecessary phobias people obtain towards sharks. So here we go…
Sharks play a very important role in the oceans due to the fact that they are at the top of the food chain in most parts of the ocean. They are considered as “keystone” species by scientists, meaning that removing them causes the whole structure to collapse. Predatory sharks eat older, slower or sick fish as well as eating dead fish on the sea floor, which helps maintain a healthier population in their ecosystems. By doing so, they prevent the spread of disease and also strengthen the genes of the prey. Healthier fish reproduce in greater numbers resulting in higher populations of healthier fish.
“Sharks have survived for 450 million years on this planet but may become extinct within the next few decades, all due to shark finning.”
The three main risks to sharks are overfishing, bycatch and shark finning. Bycatch happens when sharks are incidentally caught while fishing for other commercial fish. It is estimated that an average of 27 million tons of fish are discarded each year in commercial fisheries. The practice of shark finning has increased heavily since around 1997 when shark fin soup started to become popular and was believed, particularly in China, to supply medicinal values. Shark fins fetch a much higher price than other shark meat, supplying much more of an incentive for the practice of finning, where the fins are removed when the shark is still alive and then disregarded back in the sea. Unable to move effectively, they sink to the bottom of the ocean and die of suffocation or eaten by other predators.
Sharks have survived for 450 million years on this planet but may become extinct within the next few decades, mostly due to shark finning. The worlds growing demand for shark fin soup has increased the slaughter of sharks to such an extent that some species are already nearing extinction. There is no evidence to support that shark fin soup has certain health benefits. Shark fin cartilage is flavourless and also contains a high level of mercury so if you’ve tasted good shark fin soup, the fin isn’t what has made the soup taste good.
The extinction of sharks should concern everyone as the result will be the devastation of coral reefs and destruction of ecosystems. Living sharks also fuel economies in many places through dive tourism; the industry in Palau is worth an estimated $18 million per year.
Interested in learning more about why sharks are so important? Here at Lutwala Dive centre on Gili Trawangan, we offer a Shark Aware Conservation speciality course that provides participants with a greater understanding of the shark species as well as the opportunity to dive with the sharks around the island. For those who are particularly interested, Lutwala Dive can offer fantastic opportunities to join our South African Diving Tours, where you will have the once in a lifetime chance of diving with the larger shark species.