Sharks get a lot of attention in the media and not always in the most positive light. Sharks are portrayed as man-eating monsters and this stereotype is fueled by ridiculous movies and fear of the unknown. Think about it; are you afraid of sharks? Have you ever seen a shark? Had a bad experience or even your own experience with a shark? If you really think about why you hate, fear or dislike sharks, I am guessing it is purely based on things you have seen or heard, not a first-hand experience. I am asking you to step outside of that mentality for a moment and try to appreciate these animals as one of the most amazing creations on this planet. At this point you are probably wondering why you should care about sharks at all or bother thinking differently about them?
But Why Should You Care About Sharks?
Sharks are apex predators that keep our oceans clean and healthy. It is all connected and each piece is vital for the overall health of the system. Removing a piece can have impacts both large and small. Think about your favorite fish entrée or a beautiful spot you snorkeled; sharks keep our oceans healthy, so that you can continue to enjoy these things.
Approximately 73 million sharks are being killed each year and this global decimation far exceeds the natural fluctuation in populations that a species can encounter and still thrive. Sharks are fish, but they do not reproduce like other fish, laying thousands of eggs each year. The lemon shark, for example, reaches sexual maturity between 8-14 years. A female must then carry her pups (baby sharks) for 12 months before returning to the place she was born to give birth. Of the 5-15 pups that are born through live birth, one will live to see its first birthday. One shark. Other species lay egg cases, but the numbers are minimal and cannot combat against the destruction that is impacting them globally. Without education, awareness and protection, sharks face even more troubles.
How You Can Help Sharks:
You do not need to be a shark expert, environmentalist, Internet mogul or millionaire to help sharks. All you need to be is a person that cares and is willing to take a small step towards the greater good. Think about things you like to do or are good at? Do you bake, write, take photographs, work with kids, or belong to a community group? All of these things can help sharks.
1. Read a shark or ocean book to kids: Find a school, church group or after school program where volunteer readers are welcomed. Select an ocean book and read it to the kids. This will probably lead to a discussion of why you care about the ocean. Be open and honest. Share what you know or a personal ocean experience. If you have underwater pictures from a dive or snorkel trip you could share those as well. The kids will love the personal story. It makes the ocean real and the opportunity to explore it something they can do. I guarantee the kids will think you are awesome just for taking the time to visit with them.
2. Research what is happening in your community: Is there an ocean group, conservation committee, scuba group or recycling club? Join up and become part of a group of like-minded people. Suggest a bake sale or silent auction to raise money, organize a beach clean up or organize for someone that works with the sharks to be a guest speaker. If there isn’t anything in your town, is there something in a nearby town or city?
3. Avoid purchasing shark meat or shark products: GNC sells shark cartilage along with a lot of other reputable vendors. It is claimed that the cartilage is a cure all for joint problems or even a preventative for cancer. NONE of this has been scientifically proven. This is a gimmick to get your dollars. Shark tooth necklaces and jaws are sold as tourist trinkets around the world. Do you really think all those sharks died naturally? Although some necklaces are made from shark teeth fossils, there are some that are not. No, they were killed for their parts. Shark fin soup is the heaviest hitter among the demand that is decimating shark populations globally. This tasteless soup that can run as much as $100 per bowl is the epitome of greed and power. The shark fin industry is run with mafia style efficiency where a few select people make millions. The fins themselves are toxic, laced with mercury that bio-accumulates in these apex predators. Shark meat also has high mercury content because at the top of the food chain, they eat a lot of other mercury filled animals. The almighty dollar speaks and by not eating or purchasing goods at places that distribute, sell or support the slaughter of sharks, you are making a dent in the demand.
4. Have your own personal shark experience: There is nothing more powerful in changing perceptions about sharks than having your own moment with them. If you are a scuba diver, organize a shark dive. If you are going on vacation take a snorkel or a glass bottom boat tour at a location that sharks are usually spotted. Visit an aquarium that has sharks or even a small touch tank. Visit a marine lab or marine facility that is near where you live or near a place you plan to go. A great example of this is the Bimini Biological Field Station, also known as the Sharklab in Bimini, The Bahamas. Here guests can tour the lab, learn about the research being conducted and even touch a baby shark.
5. Make sustainable seafood choices: It is all connected and eating fish that are slow growing, slow to reproduce or threatened can impact the entire ocean ecosystem. If you choose to eat seafood find out what species in your area are sustainable. When you are shopping for fish or eating out, do not be afraid to ask what the fish is and where they acquire it. Know what you are eating and where it came from. Be ware of alias names such as, “ flake,” for shark when you travel. It is not rude to be insistent on knowing what you are eating. If the answer is vague it is probably best to select another option. Seafood Watch is a great resource for the United States. You can download the list and keep in your wallet.
6. Recycle, recycle, and recycle: Yes, this helps sharks. The less trash produced, the less trash that ends up in our oceans. Use canvas bags, refillable water bottles and find out what recycling options exist in your area. This is a simple effort that has a big impact.
We are constantly being bombarded with environmental issues that demand our attention and action to the point it can be very overwhelming. It can seem hopeless and we can easily feel helpless. There is hope and each one of us is a part of that. We all have a voice and the ability to make change. You do not have to move a mountain to make a difference.Photo Credit: Jillian Morris, Susan Morris