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Shark Facts and Conservation Effort News

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Yao Ming’s work as an anti-shark fin soup crusader is showing real progress in China | Ball Don’t Lie – Yahoo Sports.

Stunning great white shark attack image is a mystery no longer.

From Australia, wetsuit uses patterns to deter shark attacks – Yahoo! Small Business Advisor.

Hawaii Tiger Shark Migration Coincides with Rise in Bites – Yahoo! News.

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It’s Shark Week!

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As shark week comes to a close I would like to take a moment to discuss these magnificent creatures. As I child I had a fear of most predatory animals, though I had very little real world experience with them to set the foundation of this fear. However this fear led me to learn about them. While originally intended to teach me how to protect my selves from these “monsters”, what I learned taught me to respect and love these creatures rather than hate and fear them. I have stated this before during my post on wolves, the link to which can be found at the end of this post, and it has been the same in regards to my relationship with sharks. I have found myself in the water with sharks on numerous occasions throughout my life and I have never felt like I was in any danger. For instance while in the Galapagos Islands I swam with species such as Galapagos sharks, white tips, and hammerheads. I have even been in the water with the feared bull shark while snorkeling near Key West, Florida though I was not fortunate enough to see the shark personally (it was spotted and identified by our captain).

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I will say I was overall disappointed with the programming on Shark Week this year. In fact I gave up watching it after the first three days as this years programming seems to have lost the focus of what Shark Week is about. With mockumentaries like “Megalodon” and countdowns of the most dangerous sharks in the world the overall theme this year seemed to be “it is not safe to go in the water”. Meanwhile, discussion of shark conservation and real facts about sharks was more or less limited to flashcards between shows and commercial breaks. So I wanted to take the time to correct this lack of focus by Discovery Channel and have a real discussion on sharks and shark conservation.

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Sharks should rightly fear us much more than we fear them. On average there are only four people a year killed by sharks. While there are certainly more attacks than this, the number of human victims of sharks pales in comparison to the number of sharks harmed by humans each year. In fact, it is estimated that humans kill anywhere from 70 million to 100 million sharks each year. This persecution by humans has led 20% of shark species to the brink of extinction. Many of these deaths are accidental due to indiscriminate fishing practices, however a large portion of this killing is intentional to feed demand for shark products in Asia. Anyone who has watched shark week has likely heard of the demand for shark fin soup which is considered a delicacy in China. However, a less known use of sharks is for their cartilage which is believed to fight cancer. This by the way is false and science has proven that chemicals in shark cartilage can actually be harmful to humans.

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While the overall theme this year may paint sharks as ravenous killers this is certainly not the case. Only 20 species of sharks, out of the 350+ recorded species, are known to attack humans. Great white sharks, some of the most feared in the world, are actually picky eaters. Often they attack once and leave as they can determine with a single bite whether or not the target will satisfy its nutritional needs. This is why many humans receive “test bites” rather than full on predatory attacks.

Literature cited:

https://wildlifeconservation101.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/wolf-hunting-opens-in-wisconsin/

http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/shark-week/shark-facts/top-100-shark-facts.htm

http://animal.discovery.com/fish/shark-fishing.htm

Wildlife of the Galapagos Islands

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As a wildlife ecology student my recent trip to the Galapagos Islands was the experience of a lifetime. I was so pumped about the trip that I even read Darwin’s “Origin of Species” (it was rough). From the moment I set foot in San Cristobal, my point of entry, I was completely blown away. My expectations for the trip had been surpassed within the first hour in the archipelago.

As soon as I had cleared through customs I spotted my first Magnificent Frigatebird and a couple of Blue-Footed Boobies. My first sighting of a Darwin Finch was on my way to meet up with my local guide. I felt like I was treading in the footsteps of Darwin himself as I observed the magnificent variety of bird life all around me. As my guides described it to me, the Galapagos do not have a huge diversity of species like I had seen on the mainland, but those species found in the islands are found in abundance. Imagine colonies of 70 or more Blue-footed Boobies or 400 sea lions laying on the beach.

One of Darwin's finches

One of Darwin’s finches

The most amazing characteristic of the wildlife I found on all of the islands I visited was their complete lack of fear. It was not uncommon to see a sea lion flop down on a bench next to a human. During my snorkeling trips I came face to face with Galapagos Penguins, sea turtles, and Galapagos sharks and none of them cared I was there. Sea lions would swim up to me and start trying to play by spinning in the water and bumping into me. However this lack of fear is not the result of taming or acclimation to human presence. The Galapagos do not have any large, terrestrial based, predatory mammals that are native to the archipelago. As such the animals do not see humans as a threat.

Sea lion on a bench

Sea lion on a bench

Along with some amazing photography opportunities due to this lack of fear I also had the opportunity to observe the effects of isolation and evolution. The greatest example of this were the mockingbirds I observed. The mockingbirds of the Galapagos originally evolved from a mainland species that somehow migrated to the islands. Over the years of isolation they have become genetically distinct from mainland mockingbirds. They have evolved into their own unique species, the Galapagos Mockingbird. I observed this species during my travels on Santa Cruz and Isabela. Speciation has continued with those mockingbirds found on San Cristobal though. Again they have evolved into a species of their own known as the San Cristobal Mockingbird.

San Cristobal Mockingbird

San Cristobal Mockingbird

Another great example of evolution within the species of the Galapagos is amongst the tortoises. Currently there are 11 species of Galapagos tortoises located on different islands throughout the archipelago (there were 15 species at the time of Darwin’s visit to these islands). These species are not only genetically distinct, some have developed unique shell shapes as an adaptation to conditions on their individual islands. The carapaces (shells) of tortoises on the islands I visited all had the common dome shape. However, on some of the islands like Española, which are arid and have little low lying vegetation, tortoises have developed saddle-shaped carapaces. This shape allows them to stretch their necks higher up to feed.

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  Galapagos Tortoise with domed carapace       Galapagos tortoise with saddle-shaped carapace

Galapagos tortoise with saddle-shaped carapace

Unfortunately I was unable to see the Flightless Cormorants (with no land based predators and a diet composed of fish flight is an unnecessary expenditure of energy and has thus been lost) during my visit to the Galapagos. However the trip was still an amazing experience, especially for a wildlife ecology student such as myself. Although they are somewhat difficult to get to the Galapagos Islands are an amazing destination and I would highly recommend them as a destination for nature enthusiasts.

Diver Ocean Ramsey Swims With Sharks | ABC News Blogs – Yahoo!

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Diver Ocean Ramsey Swims With Sharks | ABC News Blogs – Yahoo!.

Shark-eating seal among rare and stunning scenes documented off South Africa

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Shark-eating seal among rare and stunning scenes documented off South Africa.

Killers of the Deep?

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The past few weeks  have been rather busy with both a four week business trip and the start of the new semester. This led to missing several postings and for that I apologize. Now that I am back to business I wanted to start off with a topic inspired by Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

Sharks and humans have a long, often troubled relationship. In ancient times sharks were revered and often considered as Gods or at least to have been sent by a God for some purpose or other. Nowadays sharks are sadly seen as monsters most of the time due to their man eating reputation. But why is it that most people have this inherent fear or hatred of sharks but not of other apex predators such as lions, tigers, or bears (oh my!). Probably the reasoning is that most people live in areas where they are unlikely to see these other predators. On the other hand just about everyone loves to go to the beach or ocean, and must therefore run the risk of encountering sharks. Another possible reason is that encounters with bears and such happen on land where we feel comfortable. Sharks attack us in the water, where we are out of our element and vulnerable. They can make us feel unsafe when in the ocean and therefore society seems to have placed a special kind of hatred on them.

However there are many people trying to overcome this stigma by attempting to understand sharks and share that understanding with the world. It is in their honor, and respect for one of the greatest predators this world has ever seen, that I write this posting and try to share their knowledge.

Out of roughly 350 known species of sharks only 20 species have a history of attacking humans, with most of these attacks being perpetrated by only three species- great white, tiger, and bull sharks (Discovery). But how likely are shark attacks really? It turns out that on average there are only 70 confirmed shark attacks each year  with only around 10 of those being fatal (National). This means that more people die each year driving, giving birth, or going to hospitals. However, humans are much more dangerous to sharks. In fact National Geographic states that shark deaths at human hands range from 20-100 million animals per year and that some species have plummeted as much as 30-50% (National).

The truth is humans are not natural prey for sharks and most attacks are accidents. Those few that are fatal are likely cases of mistaken identity in which the human somehow resembled natural prey and the shark went into predatory mode. Examples of this happen when a great white mistakes a surfer paddling for a seal or a recent case was when a tiger shark reportedly mistook a swimmers camouflage patterned shorts for the pattern of a turtle shell. The bulk of shark “attacks” had been reported as test bites by juvenile sharks simply trying to find out what we humans are.

The fact is that when we enter the ocean we are entering the world of the shark and we must respect them. This respect can only be gained through education and understanding. After all, when a lion attacks someone in the savanna it is commonly accepted that the human was likely at fault for entering the lions domain and breaching its comfort zone. When hikers enter bear country they recognize the risk of running into a bear and thus take precautions to avoid conflicts with the bear. So why not give the same respect to sharks when we enter their world.

References:

Discovery Channel. http://dsc.discovery.com/sharks/shark-o-nator/

National Geographic. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0613_050613_sharkfacts.html