The Plight of the Shark
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN MEXICO
FEW animals are more fear-inspiring than sharks. Worldwide, there are, on average, an estimated 75 unprovoked shark attacks on humans each year, about 10 of which are fatal. Those widely publicized attacks, plus the negative image projected in movies, portray the shark as a man-eater. Of course, sharks must be treated with respect. Putting the matter in perspective, however, many more deaths are caused by bee stings and crocodiles than by shark attacks.
Conversely, the shark is under attack by man. “Each year 100 million sharks are being caught—so many that if we put them together, nose to tail, they would encircle the globe five times,” reports a researcher for the Argus Mariner Consulting Scientists organization in the magazine Premier. Add to this depredation their naturally low birth rates, slowness in maturing, and long gestation periods coupled with the pollution of their nursery grounds, and the result is a rapidly declining shark population. Once depleted, it would take years to replace itself.
The majority of sharks are captured for their fins, which are highly prized by some Asians for their supposed medicinal and aphrodisiac properties.* Shark-fin soup is an expensive delicacy that can cost up to $150 a bowl! Supplying the lucrative Asian market has led to the cruel and wasteful practice of “finning”—slicing off the fins of a live shark and throwing it back into the ocean to die of starvation or drowning.
Action Is Essential for Survival
Should the plight of the shark concern us? It may be difficult to feel the same sympathy for sharks as we might for elephants or whales. However, we must recognize their vital role in maintaining the ecological balance of the oceans. For example, their feeding habits currently serve as a check on other fish populations.
Shark fishing is unregulated in many countries. After a ten-year debate, Mexico, a major shark-fishing nation, where over 30,000 tons a year are harvested, recently passed a law prohibiting shark finning. Further highlighting the difficulties involved, demand for shark fins has led to the proliferation of illegal fishing in marine reserves in different parts of the world. For example, the director of the Galápagos National Park Service laments: “The illegal fishing for shark fins in the Galapagos has increased dramatically in the past few years. It’s very profitable and has created a mafia here.”
A positive step has been taken toward saving the shark—the practice of finning was banned by some countries. However, Charlotte Mogensen, a policy officer for the World Wildlife Fund, warns that much more is needed. She states: “Sharks remain in peril all over the world. We urge all fishery management organizations to adopt not only finning bans, but requirements for shark data collection, bycatch reduction and sustainable catches.”
Happily, wildlife’s Creator will not allow the wanton abuse of his majestic creation much longer. This includes the fearsome but indispensable shark.—Revelation 11:18.
Ironically, shark fins have been found to contain a high concentration of mercury, which can cause sterility in men.
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Size: The largest species, the whale shark (above), reaches 60 feet [18 m] in length and weighs several tons. But it is a harmless creature that feeds on plankton and small fish.
Gestation period: Birth takes place after as much as 22 months of gestation.
Rate of reproduction: The shark gives birth to anywhere from two to ten pups per litter on the average. Most species are born alive.
Rate of growth: Most take between 12 and 15 years to reach sexual maturity.
Longevity: It is difficult to determine the longevity of most shark species, but the aggressive great white (below) is estimated to live to the age of 60.
© Kelvin Aitken/age fotostock
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Of the more than 300 shark species, 62 are now threatened with extinction
© Mark Strickland/SeaPics.com
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Just one pound of shark fins can sell for $200 or more. A set of jaws from the great white shark can bring up to $10,000
© Ron & Valerie Taylor/SeaPics.com