Sometimes sharks are called “killing machines.” In reality, people have a much higher chance (over 600%) of being stuck by lightning than being attacked by a shark.
Movies like the famous 1975 thriller “Jaws” portray sharks as evil, almost supernatural, beasts that will do whatever they can to taste human flesh. But, perhaps we should look in our own mirrors to see the real threat. Sharks around the world are captured by the millions for their meat, skin, and oils. They are hunted for their fins, used in some countries to make a popular soup, while the rest of the body is thrown overboard to die. Sport fishermen host tournaments with top prize money for big sharks.
Certainly, shark fishing at a sustainable level is possible, and sharks are an important source of food and income for thousands of people. However, many are being caught faster than they can reproduce. Some sharks are even at-risk of being classified as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Even if the sight of a shark gives you the “willies,” you should care about what happens when they are gone. The decline of sharks can cause what scientists call “cascading” impacts on oceans. When large sharks on the U.S. East Coast were depleted, there was a rise in the population of a type of ray called the “cownose” ray. What’s so bad about that? Well, the rays damage vital sea grass habitats that are important marine life nurseries. To make matters worse, the rays like to eat a lot of the same seafood that we enjoy, like scallops and clams.
Recently the Texas Observer published an article presenting an interesting account of the tragic circumstances facing sharks and one struggling Mexican community that relies on them. It tells us that not only do we have to do a good job in managing sharks within our own national waters, but that we need to find ways to work and cooperate with the other countries in the Gulf of Mexico region to conserve sharks – for the benefit of the oceans and coastal communities.