Save the Sharks?

In today’s Times, Andy Revkin reports on a new study by the Lenfest Ocean Program that will surely inspire a rush to the barricades for certain environmentalists:

Some shark populations in the Mediterranean Sea have completely collapsed, according to a new study, with numbers of five species declining by more than 96 percent over the past two centuries. “This loss of top predators could hold serious implications for the entire marine ecosystem, greatly affecting food webs throughout this region,” said the lead author of the study, Francesco Ferretti, a doctoral student in marine biology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

My question is: how much public and philanthropic enthusiasm can be drummed up for a Save the Sharks campaign? Save the whales, sure, and baby seals, definitely — but sharks?

Even though sharks present a rare living link to prehistoric times, and even though the severity of shark attacks is egregiously overblown, the first step toward “saving” them (if indeed such an effort is necessary, and worthwhile) may be a rebranding campaign. Maybe Steven Spielberg could be enlisted. It’s all his fault anyway, isn’t it?


ids

Save the Shark! is a good message. Put it beneath a picture like Nirvana's Nevermind album cover, the floating baby, and it might drum enthusiasm.

chum in the water

Perhaps the sharks' Wall Street brethren will chip in out of familial guilt.

PaulK

Think Canary in the mineshaft. Whether lovable looking or not, if they are dying out, something is very wrong, and this is your forewarning.

Charles

Similar problem with wolves although they have the good sense not to eat the hand that's trying to save them; they just eat the sheep or the cow of the hand that's trying to save them.

Doesn't this problem get right back to the human tendency to overweight vivid and recent events just like stock picking? One poor surfer get's torn in half and the lemmings sellout, running for the cliff. How do we turn people into value investors of sharks? We figure out how to eliminate the threat. Don't ask me how but I'm sure that lasers, an iphone and a teenage introvert will be involved.

Jonathan

As most ecologists could testify, top level predators are usually extremely important parts of an ecosystem.

LL

Anyone doubting the awesomeness of sharks should view this message from the sharks of the deep.

http://tinyurl.com/5olrta

Sure, they kill fewer people each year than bees, donkeys, or hippos. But for them it's not about numbers, it's all about style.

AaronS

I have a policy: "All snakes are poisonous."

Yes, I know how narrow-minded that makes me appear to those who rescue rattlesnakes and release them back into the wild (THE FOOLS!)

With sharks, I'm actually a bit more lenient: "No sharks longer than 3 feet." This allows sharks to keep up with eating dead things (just takes them longer), but ensures that my nightmare-at-the-beach will only be a very handsome little scar that will make me a hero to my wife, instead of making my wife a widow.

Same with alligators--3 feet. Fully survivable if attacked by one. And at 3 feet they could still eat dead fish and small dogs (just like the good ol' days!). Further, it would likely mean more fish surviving to be eaten by us!

Now, if they ever start a "Kill the Snakes" or "Stop the Sharks" charity....

Mike

Nope, no egregious overblowing here either, right? I mean, I don't want to claim there ISN'T a problem, but just because 96% of the sharks are gone, doesn't mean the oceans are doomed. Before we cry doomsday here, let's look at the data. I mean, really, you link to Levitt's article about over-hyping shark attacks and oil prices, and this is exactly what you're doing here.

Since somebody mentioned wolves, let me point out that we eradicated wolves from the forests of Eastern United States. Not 96%, but 100%. Literally ALL of these apex predators were gone for about 100 years. And as a result, the Eastern U.S. turned in to a barren wasteland, right? Well, say what you want about deforestation and the loss of old-growth in the Lower Forty-Eight. It certainly wasn't due to lack of wolves, it was due to logging and sprawl mostly. Forests are coming back, and (Surprise!) so are the wolves.

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Snidely

Jason (comment 5) hit the nail on the head. Humans have become the sharks for large swaths of the oceans/seas. The problem in the Med is much larger than just sharks; fish populations are way down as well due to massive overfishing. Unless Med basin governments collectively set harsh restrictions, the fish population of the Med will dwindle. In reality it's not gonna happen - the fishing economy is far too big an economic element in Italy and other Med nations to actually make the chnage. Probably needs the EU to step in and ban fishing for 5 - 10 years. Again, not gonna happen.

ProgGrrl

I have no scientific research in hand to back this up at the moment, but given the high levels of toxins found in upper-food-chain fish like tuna, this is not a surprise.

When is humanity going to look at their land and sea like God's gift, something to carefully steward...rather than a huge endless teat and trash dump.

Nina

Ok, I promise this is the last time.
But if you want to learn more about how to help stop shark finning, click here: http://www.hsus.org/wildlife/issues_facing_wildlife/shark_finning/help_stop_shark_finning.html

If you at least take step #9 (sign HSI's No Shark Fin pledge), it's already a great achievement. :D

Nina

But there are Save the Sharks campaigns. Humane Society International has been talking about them for years - I try to help whenever possible by at least sending a letter to local governments to help make better policies for protecting these animals, and sometimes by making donations.
Although I have a near-phobia of sharks (obviously, Spielberg is to blame), I am a fierce animal protector and think all species are here for a reason and should be preserved.

If everyone has a little spare time on their hands and wouldn't mind helping, here's the link:
http://www.hsus.org/

SAVE THE SHARKS!

Jason

"As most ecologists could testify, top level predators are usually extremely important parts of an ecosystem."

Yes, if you remove the top level predators from an ecosystem, all hell breaks loose. But that's not the problem here: the open oceans *have* a very effective top-level predator, he's running around in boats eating up all the sharks' food.

So the ecosystem consequences might not be as big an issue, but unless we want to admit that we're only interested in *fuzzy* endangered species, we should be as interested in saving sharks as we are in saving bears.

Kathryn

Sharks are apex predators that need to be protected and respected and this report exposes the facts about their dwindling populations. We kill tens of millions of sharks every year through shark finning, a barbaric practice, and as bycatch in the fishing industry. Shark tournaments, where fisherman compete for cash prizes to kill the largest shark, don't help their plight either and celebrate this violence. Removing a large, mature shark from the ocean to hang up on a dock for money is detrimental to populations as they are very slow to mature and reproduce. Sharks may not be loveable creatures but we need to learn to love and respect them.

Amy

I'm glad to see so many people in favor of saving sharks despite their nasty reputation. For those less convinced of their worth, let me break it down:

Do you like sea food? Say goodbye to it if sharks go...seals, sea lions, dolphins, marlins, etc (all natural prey for sharks, ESPECIALLY for those longer than 3 feet) will be gobbling up all your low carb fish.

You think its bad that on average 1 person dies of a shark attack each year? Try the hundreds that die each year due to jelly fish, and with no sharks around, I'd be careful getting into the water.

Most importantly, I think we all can agree that BREATHING is a good thing. Unlike wolves, bears and other land predators, messing with the apex predators of an aquatic ecosystem--particularly one which we as humans still know so little about--would be catastrophic. The fact of the matter is that nearly 90% of our oxygen comes from oceanic vegetation. I wouldn't want to mess around with that.

Bottom line: stop being so self-absorbed and understand that just because you happen to go on vacation once a year and would prefer not to be "inconvenienced" with nature as you swim does not give you the right to ignorantly destroy an apex predator of the ocean. Don't forget: in the ocean,you're the fish out of water.

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