Learn. Understand. Share.

Now I have explained why sharks need help and are important, the next thing I wanted to bring to the table is our current main objective. With regards to conservation topics it is well known that ‘education is key’. No word of a lie. It really is! If people don’t know about the issue, then it will continue to go un-noticed, and that probably means that it will worsen or created bigger issues. We try to educate through different means, as often as possible. Our social media sites keep supporters up to date with the latest shark news and research, whilst inspiring debate, and sharing thought provoking images. Of course these are our main source of advertisement for our personal events, projects and campaigns. Which brings me to my next three points..

We have attended & plan to attend all kinds of events. Bearing in mind most of these are funded out of our own pockets, and therefore we are limited somewhat. But when we run an event, we like to target the general public where we have a chance to introduce new facts which we can only hope stick in their minds and spread by word of mouth. I’ve personally only done a couple but its great interacting with the public and actually witnessing the learning process take place. It’s amazing! And for them to then want to shake your hand or ask to get involved gives you a sense that you have made a little bit of a difference! And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?.. You can stay aware of our up and coming events on Facebook, Twitter & our website.

One of our educational projects, we wish to continue & expand upon (Photo credit: 'So What?')

Now, projects! We plan to do many, but this is a case study we are particularly proud of. If you haven’t heard of ‘So What?’ you should have! Currently based in Manchester (wanting to spread further!), they run after school clubs about conservation topics- sharks included! Recently, we got in contact with them to see about helping each other out! We have a series of fact sheets on our downloads page on our website, and they happily used these in one of their clubs and the kids made the fantastic posters seen above! One pupil even went home and made a sculpture of a shark based on our anatomy fact sheet! See our Facebook album for more examples. Neither of us are teachers, and so being unable to teach ourselves, we are more than grateful to Matthew Payne for allowing us to contribute to his educational programme, and we plan to continue to support ‘So What?’ in any future projects concerning sharks. A real pleasure! Please take a few moments to visit the ‘So What?’ website, Facebook and Twitter and see what other fantastic things they do!

So we started out with a petition to campaign against the sale and harvest of shark fins in the UK & EU, which if you haven’t, please sign it here! Sharks and the oceans need a lot more of this kind of attention and we have various campaigns coming up. We don’t like to give away too much, but we will make you aware in due course. Again, please keep an eye out on our social media sites, and I will be posting on here too!

We hope to do as much 'educating' as we can, as we know the impact it can have, especially when concerning the next generation, as with ‘So What?’! The wonderful thing is (and this is where my inner geek comes out to play!) we never really stop learning, unless we want to. There are always new things to discover and share, and I hope this blog will be another means to do just that. 

I’m going to finish with a quote I picked up in a paper I used for my final project, which I believe to be very apt for the occasion and is a personal favorite  "..for in the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught"- Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist and poet. 

Why Sharks? (Part 3 of 3)

Now, after my recent posts I feel I need to persuade (some of..) you somewhat. There is a reason people make such a fuss about sharks, because they serve an important role in the ecosystem, and actually, in all of our lives. Let me at least try to explain :)

Sharks are known as ‘keystone species’ because if they are removed, this can cause an ecosystem collapse with very damaging consequences. This applies to all species. Many predatory sharks sit at the top of the food chain, effectively managing ecosystems by helping to maintain the population numbers of species they feed on, in particular secondary predators, such as tuna. This is because unlike sharks, they have the potential to repopulate quickly. In the absence of shark predation, there are more animals that need food, and prey species populations decline quickly. In effect, these secondary predators then starve, leaving the ocean relatively empty.

Filter feeding sharks such as the basking shark, feed on small organisms called plankton. These can be either animal (zooplankton) or plant (phytoplankton). Swimming with their mouths agape, they filter small organisms from the water through their gills.  Detrivores such as the cookie cutter shark feed exclusively on dead matter and waste that sinks to the ocean floor, and play a vital role in recycling nutrients so nothing is wasted. For more information about their roles, please visit our ‘Roles in Ecosystems’ Shark File. Again, all animals fill a certain niche within an ecosystem, but as keystone species within the most vital ecosystem on this planet, it must be said, we NEED sharks.

Copyright Rob Allen Photography: A whale shark, one of the filter feeding sharks, also a good choice for eco-tourism dives (keep reading!)

Now if you think about it we might rely on the same fish that live in the sharks environment, and so we rely on them to maintain populations, that is if we haven’t already over-exploited them ourselves already. Particularly in coastal communities, if the fish disappear, fishermen lose their jobs, people begin to starve, recreational divers don’t want to pay to go see an empty ocean, tour companies then lose out etc., you get the picture..

And tourism is an important factor worth highlighting. It is believed that because of what has been dubbed ‘eco tourism’, so for example snorkeling with whale sharks or cage diving with great whites (as long as it actually aims to benefit the conservation efforts for the species in question, which sadly, it often doesn't), sharks can be worth more alive than dead! This incentive could potentially be used to turn the whole shark finning industry around, if done properly.

Back to our dependence on the ocean.. You may not realize especially if you live inland, that you rely on the ocean so much, but even if you eat farmed animals they are mainly fed on fish. Ice cream is made with a type of seaweed and probably most of the toiletries you use in everyday life have ingredients derived from the ocean. We are more dependent on it than we can probably ever imagine.. And sharks are essential to the oceans health. Sorry to have to go all hippie-fied, but we are still part of the ‘web of life’ and our actions can quite easily tear large, unnecessary holes in it.

The sad fact is we are currently a sharks worst enemy, but they NEED us too. On a brighter note it is possible for us to turn the tables and become their best friends! If we concentrate on what we could gain from having sharks around; without causing them harm, ruining the oceans and inevitably putting our own livelihoods at risk; then we could save them. For the benefit of us all! 

Why Sharks? (Part 2 of 3)

The second thing I feel compelled to share is why sharks need our help. I’d hate to regurgitate facts used by Shark Aid UK before through our social media sites, and by others, but I want to try and accommodate for everyone, so will state their threats here. Hopefully there is something fresh in here for you somewhere!

‘Shark finning’ is thought to be the biggest threat to sharks. It concerns all species, and happens globally, and there is now a global demand for the infamous shark fin soup, which this particular practice is carried out to supply for. For anyone looking for more information see our finning fact sheet here with 10 quick facts on the issue.

Over-fishing causes several problems. Methods such as long lining and trawling mean that not only ‘target fish’ are caught, but so are thousands of sharks (as well as dolphins, turtles, seabirds and more!). Furthermore, some of the sharks prey species are reduced meaning they have to adapt feeding behavior find new territory, or starve. The gear used for these methods is very damaging to ocean habitats and inhabitants. Sharks can get entangled in lines and nets (which either drowns them or embeds in their skin leading to infection), and trawlers pick up sediment and rip corals which support all life in the ocean, including sharks.

As a direct consequence of their bad perception, they are often caught in shark nets and drum lines set up off the coast Australia and South Africa originally to reduce the amounts of attacks! The effectiveness of these is questionable. Also, there are often threats from governments, particularly in Australia, to cull them as a form of ‘pest control’ (please refer to my last post as to why this idea is so utterly ridiculous, should you need reminding!). Furthermore there are active shark hunters in some parts that kill the biggest & most ‘threatening’ of sharks to ‘save the public’, and trophy hunting of sharks, particularly Great whites is a big business.

Copyright Rob Allen Photography: As seen here, sharks and divers can swim together quite happily ..

To add to the list further (and I know, its long, but all the more reason to care) their teeth, contrary to popular believe, are often taken from dead sharks as opposed to the many that they shed throughout their lifetime. So please, avoid this type of jewellery item at all costs. Also shark liver oil is used in some Chinese and western medicines so be wary of these. Here is an article on this issue, shared by Shark Aid UK some time ago. I also recently saw some pictures on the Sharks Need Love page, which is run by the lovely Annie Anderson (worth a follow on twitter) showing dead baby sharks being sold in jars of fluid as ornaments in Miami (See here).

Phew.. I think that’s everything. It’s hard because it literally seems that the list of threats to sharks is never ending. Now the natural history of sharks, as a whole, indicates they are slow reproducing. This means that any vast population declines are a struggle for them to recover from. We don’t exactly know the population trends of sharks, some estimates have been as bad as 90% in 50 years as a whole, some regional populations having disappeared entirely, and obviously this varies between species. If you want to delve into the details check out this blog.

In doing my dissertation last year I found some worrying figures. Of approximately 350 sharks listed, there are currently 68 species of threatened sharks (classed as vulnerable or worse on the IUCN Red List), but what is perhaps more frightening, is that 210 species are data deficient. This just highlights that sharks really do need our help to better assess how we can help them. Yet we’re letting them slip through our fingers. Only 7 are protected under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). I found out by doing a species search here). However, this convention offers varying degrees of protection dependent on species and country, and is somewhat flawed, which I will probably try to explain at a later date. A further 7 species are protected under the CMS (Convention on Migratory Species), as shown here, but as with CITES, these laws and regulations are barely enforced.

For now, I’m sorry for depressing you all, but if we close our eyes to these issues they will continue to worsen. We need to give our beloved sharks a much needed helping fin! I have tried to provide up-to-date information, but as always, if anyone has different information please share and I will update if necessary! 

Why Sharks? (Part 1 of 3)

This is the question I always get asked, and I’m sure that majority of the audience for this blog being shark lovers, you must all get the same? How dare people question your love for the most amazing creature on the planet, right? Well, it is unfortunately still widely believed that they are dangerous, emotionless, eating machines etc. This, for me, is a big reason to show off your obsession.. Their negative perception needs changing. I’m going to try not to ramble too much about the same facts and theories, but here goes..

Although sharks are often portrayed as ‘man-eaters’, shark bites are extremely rare, occurring on average 85 times per year across the globe and an average of 7 of these fatal. Let’s put this in to perspective. There are currently over 7 billion of us, each living on a continent surrounded by ocean. Many of us spend a lot of time in or around the sea’s edge that sharks frequent, and if this is the statistic, why are they seen as especially dangerous? I mean sure, there are risks, as there is with everything, that if you behave in certain ways the shark may feel obliged to have a bite for whatever reason (scared/ curious/ threatened). But from elephants to cows, toasters to vending machines, hotdogs to falling out of bed, most things in life are far more likely to kill you (by the thousands and millions), than sharks are!

Another thing worth discussing is the term ‘shark attack’. PhD candidate Christopher Neff, has explored the term and has deemed it (and, rightly so!), as unsuitable. It is misleading in that it gives the public the idea that sharks are more dangerous that they really are, even being used to describe incidences where there are no physical contact between humans and sharks. It also gives the impression that sharks bite unreasonably; much like a murderer will attack a victim. As mentioned, there is always a reason, just more research needs to be done to clarify these. You can read Christopher’s research paper hereor see a video of him discussing the topic of ‘rogue sharks here.

I’d like to share a couple more videos in attempts to try and re-shape the current perception of sharks, for anyone who may not be aware. Now remember, there is no denying that there IS a risk when diving with sharks, and no one should ever try it without a bit of professional advice & supervision.

Great white sharks, possibly the most feared of them all, are often encountered by humans from the safety of a cage. I get the impression from many people I converse with that they believe this is the only way to get close to them. It seems the use of a cage is for personal comfort, rather than a necessity- that or a way of keeping humans under control! If you know what you are doing however, diving in open water with white sharks can in fact be rather awe-inspiring, and they can be as timid as mice.. This clip from Pelagic Life shows how beautiful such an encounter can be. It even shows some footage of swimming with them (again, without a cage) under the cover of darkness, something unthinkable in the minds of many.

Finally, I’d like to show an example that I believe shows sharks aren’t emotionless beings. Having studied a science degree, I was often steered away from the idea of being ‘anthropomorphic’, and applying human emotions to other animals, but as my Behavioral Ecology teacher often said, what else are we to think when all we know is how we’d feel in the given situations? But here is a video (which you may have seen), of sharks acting in a docile manner, swimming toward the diver possibly out of curiosity, and sticking around for a spot of ‘petting’, which would lead one to believe that they might be enjoying this interaction.

If you have anything to share, something you’d like to elaborate on or add, please feel free to leave a comment and make this blog the best possible source of information!