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Sharks And Other Predators Are Essential For Ocean Health

Sharks And Other Predators Are Essential For Ocean Health

This week, the Discovery Channel aired its world famous Shark Week; several days of programming that celebrates the might and mystery of one of the planet’s most feared and misunderstood predators. Much of the programming during this annual event focuses on the shark’s intense  killing power, and the often disastrous results that can occur when humans and sharks interact.

As humans, we’re not used to being challenged for our spot at the top of the food chain. The idea that a wild animal could possibly view us as prey is unnerving, and the reason that shark nets and shark alarms are used to religiously in coastal areas. Enhanced media reports of shark attacks and movies like Jaws have taught us that sharks are the enemy, and need to be eradicated or we’ll never be safe.

What many fail to realize is that an ocean without sharks is a truly terrifying prospect, one that inches closer and closer to reality every moment we refuse to protect these ancient predators.

According to a 2008 report by Oceana, “as top predators, sharks help to manage healthy ocean ecosystems. And as the number of large sharks declines, the oceans will suffer unpredictable and devastating consequences. Sharks help maintain the health of ocean ecosystems, including seagrass beds and coral reefs.”

The report goes on to point out that apex predators like the shark help to maintain a healthy ecosystem by conducting population control on the wide variety of species in their diet, as well as influencing where those populations choose to congregate.

“Apex predators not only affect population dynamics by consuming prey, but they also can control the spatial distribution of potential prey through intimidation. Fear of shark predation causes some species to alter their habitat use and activity level, leading to shifts in abundance in lower trophic levels. Top predators affect other animals in a cascade effect throughout the ecosystem, ultimately influencing community structure.”

Commercial shark fishing, climate change, and shark finning are all human practices that have sparked a rapid decline in global shark populations. Oceana estimates that shark finning kills 26 to 73 million sharks each year just for the fins alone. This means that humans, not sharks, are the ocean predators that ought to strike fear into the public’s heart.

Surveys show that the abundance of the 11 great sharks (sharks more than two meters in length) along the eastern coast of the United States has declined to levels of functional elimination. Without these sharks, 12 species of rays, skates and smaller sharks — have increased in abundance by as much as ten-fold. The species that increased most in abundance was the cownose ray, which migrates up and down the eastern coast consuming bivalves like scallops, clams and oysters.

These bivalves are essential for filtration of ocean waters. Without them toxic blooms of algae could choke out all forms of life in coastal areas, threatening both the environment and the humans that depend on them.

Want to help? Add your signature to the below petition to protect sharks once and for all!

Related Reading:

Should Shark Week Focus On Conservation?

Shark Deaths Throwing Off Ocean Balance

Shark Finning Outlawed In Chilean Waters

Image Credit: Flickr - usfwspacific

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10:05AM PDT on Apr 3, 2013


7:51PM PST on Feb 16, 2013

Great and thanks for the chance to sign.

1:28AM PST on Jan 22, 2012


3:17PM PST on Dec 19, 2011

Care 2 and its advocates for Healthy Oceans -- all I can add is that I LOVE YOU!!! John Hibbs

6:35AM PDT on Oct 7, 2011

Good post. Stop shark finning!

9:29PM PDT on Aug 21, 2011

Humans are ravaging and destroying the Earth from all aspects on both land and in the water. Those scary sci-fi futures showing a desolate, barren Earth are becoming a reality.

10:21AM PDT on Aug 10, 2011

Sharks are needed in our oceans. They kill only for food. We kill them in fear. Leave them to keep our oceans clean. God put them here for a reason. It is not our place to destroy them!!!!!
Save our Waters and help to keep them clean for our future as well!!

3:13PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

Thanks for the article.

1:14PM PDT on Aug 5, 2011

We've become fat, lazy humans that take all we've been blessed with for granted. We should respect all life, animal and plant alike as a gift and not plunder all our greedy little hands can grab. This creature of the deep is essential to maintaining a health ocean. Some humans fail to realize this and then there are others who are just cruel monsters that kill and maim for no reason other than sick satifaction. Will we ever learn?? Our will it be to late??

11:43AM PDT on Aug 5, 2011


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