It is hard to imagine sharks ever going extinct. Sharks have been roaming the oceans for millions and millions of years. Unfortunately, human beings are putting so much pressure on them from so many angles that many species are already endangered.
What kind of human threats do sharks face? Let us count the ways:
First there are habitat problems. Human activities impact every part of the ocean. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing the acidity of the ocean. Urban run off, farm runoff, silt runoff and sewage all change ocean chemistry and water quality. this article indicates that the Great Barrier Reef will be gone in 20 years because of ocean warming. According to one scientist there is nothing we can do to stop it at this point. With all the reefs gone, sharks take a huge hit.
Then there is the loss of fish. Because of everything from overfishing to water quality problems, it is thought that the oceans will run out of fish over the next several decades. With nothing to eat, many shark species will perish with them.
Then there is direct fishing pressure on sharks. One article I read this week mentioned that 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins alone. That is, the shark is caught, the fins removed, and then the still-living but helpless animal is thrown back in the ocean to die. If you think back to the buffalo that once roamed the American plains by the millions, you see a direct correlation. The buffalo were hunted to near extinction in just a few decades. Sharks will follow the same path.
As this article points out, we could lose a third of shark species in the near future.
The first assessment of the global fortunes of 64 species of pelagic, or open ocean, sharks and rays found 32 per cent were under threat including the great white shark and basking shark.
The study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) blamed tuna and swordfish fisheries that often catch sharks as accidental “by-catch”. Sharks are also being increasingly targeted themselves to supply growing demand for shark meat and fins.
It seems like an impossible problem. And some parts of it are impossible for us to solve as individuals. But if you have any desire to help sharks and other marine animals, there are two things you, as a single person, can do.
First, you can stop eating seafood – all seafood – and encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same. Get evangelistic about it if you like. If enough people stopped eating things like tuna, flounder, salmon, scallops and swordfish, there would be far more fish in the ocean. Plus, it will cut back on the sharks killed by fishermen looking for other species.
The second thing you can do is to put persistent pressure on local and national governments to stop ocean pollution and to end carbon emissions. The fact that we could lose the Great Barrier Reef should be a wake up call for all of us. That is an immense tragedy, and something that should shake us to our core. Help your government see that this kind of abuse must end quickly.
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