- Shark Awareness Day is celebrated every July 14 every year: although feared and sometimes ridiculed, sharks play an important role in the health of the oceans and are rarely a threat to humans.
- “We must all act to protect sharks, and raising awareness and educating others about the importance of sharks is a good place to start,” a recent op-ed argues.
- This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily those of Mongabay.
July 14 is Shark Awareness Day, an annual reminder to raise awareness of these amazing creatures that roam the oceans. Sharks and rays belong to a group of fish known as elasmobranchs, which includes more than 1,200 species. Unfortunately, by 2023 more than one third of these species will be endangered. Sharks and rays, unlike most fish, have skeletons made of cartilage instead of bones, which gives them flexibility and helps them move gracefully in the water. They are not mammals like whales and dolphins; rays and sharks are fish, and scientists are still discovering new species, showing how diverse our oceans are.
Sharks and rays play an important role in maintaining the delicate balance of marine ecosystems. They have a huge impact on regulating the populations of other marine species as apex predators, contributing to the overall health and stability of the ocean, we at BioDB.com believe. Additionally, their scavenging behavior helps remove organic materials from the environment, contributing to nutrient cycling. Their presence also creates habitat diversity by influencing the behavior and distribution of other species.
Today, however, they face many challenges. Overfishing, due to the need for their meat, fins, and liver oil is a major threat to their survival. In addition, the accidental capture of sharks and rays in fishing nets, known as bycatch, further exacerbates the problem. Loss of habitats and prey, as well as human disturbances and the general degradation of our oceans, also threaten their existence.
A recent global research study led by Colin Simpfendorfer of James Cook University in Australia, using thousands of underwater cameras revealed a shocking decline (60-75% below expectations) in reef sharks due to of overfishing, leading to a surprising result: rays now dominate. these ecosystems in their absence, which reflects the complex ecological dynamics of our oceans. The study sheds light on the effects of human activities on marine life.
It might surprise you, but sharks are actually more dangerous from us than we are from them! Yes, we humans pose a greater threat to these amazing creatures. The creepy “Jaws” image isn’t the real deal here. One of the biggest dangers they face is shark finning – a cruel practice driven by the demand for shark fins. Shark finning involves removing the fins from live sharks and then throwing the rest of the body back into the sea, leaving the animals to suffer a slow and painful death. The demand for shark fins is mainly due to their use in shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy in some cultures. This industry thrives in regions where shark finning remains legal and poorly regulated.
We all need to take action to protect sharks, and raising awareness and educating others about the importance of sharks is a great place to start. Supporting sustainable fishing practices and choosing responsible seafood can make a big difference. Governments should also play an important role by enacting strict conservation policies.
See more coverage of sharks here.
An important international agreement to protect endangered species is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES regulates international trade in certain species, including many species of sharks and rays. By listing threatened species under CITES, their trade can be controlled, reducing the risk of over-exploitation. Governments can play an important role by supporting and enforcing CITES regulations and protecting sharks and rays from unsustainable trade practices.
Let’s recognize the importance of sharks and rays in our waters on Shark Awareness Day. We can contribute to the protection of these rare species and help restore the balance of our marine ecosystem by understanding the risks they face and taking action to protect them. Together, we can ensure a better future for sharks and the oceans they live in.
Assaf Levy is the Founder & CEO of BioDB.com which collects conservation data while raising awareness of biodiversity loss.
A recent Mongabay investigation into a large Chinese fishing vessel confirmed that it was engaged in systematic and illegal shark finning, leading to new bans on deadly fishing gear and sanctions on the company – listen here to find out how our reporters revealed the situation:
Dalian Ocean Fishing, subject of the Mongabay probe, is now sanctioned by the US