Through OFS regular posting of blogs, I am pleased to share with you vital information on the state of the oceans--waves of hope coupled with much work that needs to be done to ensure future generations have the same privileges as we have enjoyed. And in that spirit of hope, I designate another blog to the importance of protecting sharks.
I have been a proud southern California resident for the past 45 years. I truly appreciate nature that is so abundant in every direction we look along our golden shoreline. I am always excited to come home to our local productive, diverse and healthy marine environment, considered one of the more productive bodies of water in the world. But even though our local marine ecosystem might look healthy and abundant from the surface; our local kelp forests and off-shore waters are missing many key species including basking sharks, blue sharks, white sharks, black sea bass, sea otters; all because of our lack of understanding basic laws of nature.
Recently there has been an increase frequency of sightings of one of the most feared animals in the ocean, white sharks. Frankly, I am thrilled to read about the white shark sightings off our coast. We have fourteen different species of sharks in our waters. They all have a value and they all play key ecological roles in helping maintain a balance in the marine ecosystem. Most of them are smaller than you and likely scared of you when you venture into the ocean.
Sharks have been swimming in the world’s oceans for more than 400 million years, since before the dinosaurs. While sharks have been able to survive periods of global mass extinctions, they have not evolved to withstand destructive human interactions. White sharks in California are listed as a protected species. In fact, most large shark species are endangered because they are either purposely targeted for shark finning, considered to be one of the most wasteful fisheries; or they are incidental kill in wasteful fishing techniques such as long lining and gill netting.
Great white shark populations are declining all around the globe. Citing recent research about the group’s numbers and genetic makeup, scientists from Oceana, Center for Biological Diversity and Shark Stewards contend that as few as 350 adult and sub adult white sharks could be swimming off the coasts of the United States and Mexico. This is a very alarming low number in the eyes of the scientists. The truth of the matter is there’s only been 64 deaths reported from Great White sharks in our world’s oceans between 1980 and 2007; but yet we have managed to successfully kill 73 million sharks of all species just last year!
Sharks are a vital component of any healthy marine ecosystem. They help maintain a balance by feeding on the weak and sick. White sharks come to these waters because of the high concentrations of their preferred prey – seals and sea lions. We have the great pleasure to live close to one of the best hidden secrets of all of southern California, the Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary. These islands and surroundings waters are home to tens of thousands pinnipeds: seals and sea lions who haul out to rest, give birth and nurse their pups on the remote beaches and rocky shores found along isolated islands. Nowhere in the world can you find four different species of pinnipeds (California sea lions, spotted harbor seals, Northern elephant seals and Northern fur seals) breeding on the same beach except on San Miguel Island, the most western island in the CINP. But 40 years ago, there use to be six different species (four species listed above and the Guadalupe fur seal and Steller sea lion). All these species except for the California sea lions and spotted harbor seals are still below their pre-hunting numbers and are now only slowly recovering because of important protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
As a community, as a species, we have to learn to live in better balance with nature. We are overeating, over-consuming, over crowding the fabric of life we call biodiversity; yet when we weaken the web of life we weaken our own existence. Every strand counts, every species counts.
Now, more than ever, the two myths that have skewed our beliefs about sharks must be laid to rest: Sharks are not mindless predators, nor sinister man-eaters; and, two, the oceans are not full of sharks. The future is in our hands, and our future depends on the ocean, on the continued balance between predator and prey and on abundant populations of this evolutionary marvel --a magnificent--and necessary--force in the sea, the shark.
“People protect what they love.” Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
“But how can we protect what we do not understand.” Jean-Michel Cousteau
First Photo: © Matthew Ferraro
Second Photo: © Miles O'Sullivan,