Sharks: Peril and Progress

Guest blog post by Jennifer R. Nolan

Jim Abernethy, tiger shark, Emma, Nigel Moyter
​Diver and photographer Jim Abernethy with a 15’ tiger shark named Emma. (Get to know her better on her Facebook page.) Photo by Nigel Moyter 

Once again, some of the world’s largest predatory sharks will be putting on a memorable “performance” for millions of viewers when the Discovery Channel launches their infamous “Shark Week.” While countless people will be glued to this show in order to witness these spectacular creatures interact with divers, shark experts, and countless bait crates, the most important things to know about sharks won’t be what is captured on film. Here are a few points to keep in mind when thinking about these awe-inspiring animals.

  • Sharks have graced our oceans for at least 415 million years
  • There are approximately 500 shark species
  • Sharks play a major role in maintaining a balanced, healthy marine ecosystem
  • Recent studies indicate that 100 million sharks are killed each year, worldwide
  • Nearly 73 million sharks are killed annually for the Asian delicacy, shark fin soup
  • Some shark populations have been nearly wiped out over the past 2 decades

hammerhead shark, Jim Abernethy
An impressive hammerhead shark. Photo by Jim Abernethy

But here is the good news:

  • Shark finning is no longer allowed in US waters
  • 24 airlines, 3 shipping lines, and 5 hotel groups have now banned shark fin products from their operations and sales
  • According to a recent report from WildAid, the prices and sales of shark fins have declined by as much as 82%. This is largely due to major, multimedia campaigns taking place over the past year in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and China.
  • Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are increasingly being established – currently less then 2% of our oceans are protected.
  • Ecotourism is on the rise, boosting coastal economies. A great example is whale shark encounters in areas like Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

Captivating jaws and all will be aired during “Shark Week,” but may we remember this: sharks don’t eat people. They certainly managed to survive without us on their diet for millions and millions of years. Shark attacks are essentially “shark mistakes,” and are largely due to poor water visibility. An average of 4-6 human fatalities occur globally on an annual basis. That pales in comparison to the numbers we are harvesting and killing – an average of 11,417 per day (Huffington Post, 2013).

Oceans essentially function as our life support system, and we need all the “players” present to ensure a thriving marine ecosystem. Truth be known, every week should be “Shark Week” when it comes to protecting and honoring sharks worldwide. 

Caribbean reef shark, Jim Abernethy

A beautiful Caribbean reef shark. Photo by Jim Abernethy