We love Shark Week so much we're doing a Shark Month! At Ella Financial Advising, we're fascinated by sharks, but we also value wildlife protection and ocean conservation. Our friend, Cindy Lamar, joins us on the blog to share ways sharks benefit the ocean ecosystem (and the human one too).
Sharks get a bad rap! We need them for a healthy ecosystem, but we treat them as the enemy—monsters to be feared, and loathed…and fascinated by.
Sharks, Truth Be Told
Sharks were here before we were, and they are older than trees and dinosaurs—existing 90 million years before trees and 190 million years before dinosaurs (Feehly 2022). Sharks are a diverse species and are necessary to keep a balance between the species of the ocean. The Saving Our Sharks Foundation shows that, like whales, they keep underwater food chains in balance. They eliminate weak and sick prey and help prevent a single species from overpopulating and overtaking the ocean. Tragically, our behaviors are changing the waters of their habitats and thinning their populations at an alarming rate.
Sharks Need Better Public Relations
Every summer in the US, we see news stories about swimmers being attacked by sharks, but this doesn’t tell us the full story. Of course, our hearts go out to anyone who has been bitten by a shark, but surprisingly, many of them become advocates on behalf of the shark species. People need sharks to maintain a healthy ocean, and sharks need us to care about their future.
We have film to thank for the villainization of sharks when, according to Ocean Conservancy, we kill way more of them than they kill of us. The evolution of underwater photography brought the sea world into view, and our thirst for the excitement of gore made the mythology of vicious shark attacks a part of popular culture.
The Guardian’s 2020 article about shark filming reveals that filmmakers of the 1950s-1970s adopted the practice of using bait to keep sharks in the vicinity long enough to get them on film. This method is now denounced by documentarians because it changes sharks’ natural behavior patterns. They are not looking for us, but we’ve encroached on their natural environments. And now, the picture we’ve painted causes them continual harm.
What Sharks Can Teach Us
Have you encountered a walking shark? Yes, you read correctly, a walking shark! There are more than 500 known species of sharks, including “...bramble sharks and gollumsharks, night sharks and shy sharks, clouded angelsharks and splendid lanternsharks; there are fat catsharks, mouse catsharks, frog, cow and weasel sharks” (Scales 2020).
The walking shark is one of the younger species at a mere 9 million years old, which disproves the theory that sharks are “ancient and unchanging” since they are still evolving and are extremely adaptable (Scales 2020).
Shark biologists and researchers are studying how sharks are able to heal wounds quickly and how they have evolved to become immune to many diseases. We will lose a lot of evolutionary information if they vanish, and some shark species are dangerously close (Scales 2020).
Education, Conservation, and Alternative Livelihoods
★ Sharks are overfished (Saving Our Sharks Foundation)
★ Sharks are hunted for their fins, dismembered, and returned to the sea (Shark Stewards)
★ Bycatch kills sharks that are accidentally caught in large fishing operations (PBS North Carolina 2022).
Many articles and studies show that shark fishing businesses are depleting shark populations and endangering the very communities that depend on sharks for their livelihood.
To end this vicious cycle and prevent shark species from going extinct we need legislation to protect endangered species from unrestricted trade and we need support for the communities that depend on fishing to survive.
We also need to shift our mindset, expand our vision beyond the stereotypes of sharks, and support organizations that see sharks as they truly are, our environmental neighbors who deserve a place in the ecosystem as much as we do.
Feehly, Conor. (2022 July 26). Sharks are older than the dinosaurs. What's the secret to their success? LiveScience. https://www.livescience.com/secret-to-sharks-success-evolution
Scales, Helen. (2020 July 6). Why we need sharks: the true nature of the ocean's 'monstrous villains'. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jul/06/why-we-need-sharks-the-true-nature-of-the-oceans-monstrous-villains
Izlar, Rossie. (2022 March 17). Researchers Test Device That May Reduce Needless Shark Death. PBS North Carolina. https://www.pbsnc.org/blogs/science/researchers-test-device-to-reduce-needless-shark-death/
(2023). Ocean Conservancy. https://oceanconservancy.org/
(2023). Shark Stewards. https://sharkstewards.org/shark-finning/shark-finning-fin-facts/
(2023). Saving Our Sharks Foundation. https://savingoursharksfoundation.org/