Shark, ©Ridlon Kiphart

Rising From the Deep

Sharks Play An Important Role in Our Ecosystem

Everyone loves a movie with a good villain. Unfortunately, when a type of wildlife is cast in that role, it can lead to real-world challenges. Since Jaws, and the many similar movies that have come since, sharks have developed a reputation for being mindless, killing machines that will stop at nothing to taste human flesh. It can be easy to forget the critical role that these unique creatures play in our ecosystem, and the fact that sharks are actually the ones who need to fear for their safety.

Oceanic Whitetip shark, © Peter Koelbl

As predators at the top of the food chain, sharks serve a critically important purpose. Just like top predators on land, sharks regulate the populations of the species they feed on, helping to keep the ecosystem balanced and able to support a wide variety of life. A drastic decline in sharks could lead to a cascading effect throughout the ocean ecosystem, from coral reefs to the fish species on which many economies depend.

Though sharks have few natural predators, humans are having a major impact. The ugly truth is that up to 100 million sharks are killed each year, commonly caught for shark fin soup or as bycatch from lines that were set out for other fish. Though sharks have lived in Earth’s oceans for hundreds of millions of years, today many species are disappearing at an alarming rate. The IUCN has estimated that one-quarter of all shark, ray and chimaera species are threatened with extinction.

Thankfully, many organizations are working to combat the threats to sharks. And although progress is certainly slow, it does seem that the very real danger of losing certain species of sharks – and the ripple effect that could have – is no longer something the world is willing to ignore.

Here are a few of the hard-won achievements in just the past year.

Shark fins, © NOAA

The Battle Against Finning

In February, the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) decided to take a step back once they realized they were treading in the wrong waters. They had originally issued a draft of regulations that would have put a stop to any state bans on trade in shark fins. But Defenders of Wildlife and many other conservation groups weighed in opposing these changes, submitting comment letters and developing legal arguments against the new rules. Eventually, NMFS backed off, and state laws banning trade in shark fins were allowed to continue. To date, Illinois, Washington, Hawaii, California, Oregon, New York, Maryland, Delaware and three Pacific Territories, as well as the city of Toronto, Canada, have all passed legislation to ban the practice.

New International Regulations – and the Knowledge to Put them into Practice

At the 2013 meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), after a great deal of work with other organizations and CITES delegates, we were thrilled that proposals for five shark species were adopted, setting regulations to control the demand of the shark-fin trade. These regulations go into effect in just a month – September, 2014. To help the international community enforce these rules, we needed to train officials from fishery agencies and CITES authorities on how to identify what shark species have been harvested based on what is brought ashore – sometimes just a fin. So in December, our experts were part of a major international workshop in South America to teach officials from around the world how to do just that, and to prepare a chain of custody. More than 70 representatives from 28 different countries attended, and we’re hopeful that, equipped with this knowledge, we’ll soon see these new rules in place, making a real difference for sharks.

Hammerhead shark, © Barry Peters

Gaining Protection Under the ESA

Though the international scene is vitally important for shark conservation, things may be changing here at home as well. Just last month, four groups (called “distinct population segments”) of scalloped hammerhead sharks were the first species of shark to be granted protections under the Endangered Species Act.

This ruling – protecting four groups of a single species – is admittedly small in scale. Experts believe that of the hundreds of species of sharks, more than 70 are in immediate need of protection. But to finally see a shark protected under our nation’s strongest wildlife conservation law is a definite step forward, and we will continue to work toward more.

It’s clear that to secure a future for sharks, a lot of work still needs to be done. We’ll do our part by continuing to advocate – nationally and internationally – for stronger regulations against shark finning and more protection for these vital but vulnerable species. You can do your part by helping to dispel the myths around sharks, and by staying up to date on the latest opportunities to help advocate for sharks. Together, we can make sure these ancient animals are here to keep our oceans healthy for generations to come.

John Yeingst is the Communications Coordinator at Defenders of Wildlife

Shark adoptions are a great way to share your appreciation for this keystone species while helping to support Defenders’ work on their behalf!
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26 Responses to “Rising From the Deep”

  1. Alexander Yeung

    We must everything we can until the species of life is safe and protect to the very end.

    Reply
  2. Ronnie

    The torture of the sharks is a horror. Our oceans are deteriorating…no balance…at an alarming rate. And this effects HUMANS too.
    Save the sharks. They have a role to play in the ocean as all other marine life. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. nan

    all of God’s creatures serve a purpose,.,,. we are not often allowed to know what or why…. its his plan not ours…

    Reply
  4. Coral McGue

    Sharks are not what they were made out to be in the horror movie made years ago. Sharks also play a part in the whole scheme of life. All species should be protected from human intervention to save their lives and our Eco system.

    Reply
  5. Carol

    The only species that is at the top of the food chain,that needs to control it’s population is human as we consume and destroy everything on the planet. We need to protect and preserve our top animal predators to keep the other animal numbers in check and healthy especially when other species reproduce at a faster rate. Beside, want we are doing is self serving and cruel.

    Reply
  6. Yolanda Williamson

    People don’t get it. Animals are not here to be our commodities. Only when a big tsunami hits or some big catastrophe happens people will awake to what animals mean in this Earth. For example, people eat meat because they have not entered a slaughterhouse, if they do they will become vegetarians instantly. Nobody could sleep at night with a quiet conscience knowing what they did to a cow just to enjoy a piece of steak.

    Reply
  7. Harriette Weller

    We have a God-given responsibility to care for the earth and all the animals including fish and birds and the land to grow food in a responsible manner. Today is a good day to begin doing so!

    Reply
  8. Julie Cain

    Within an eco system, every animal is important. Every animal has an equal right to their place…And soon, if we are not careful, Mother Nature will find a way to ‘fin’ a few billion people for being so arrogant to think they can do anything they want and there will be no consequences.

    Reply
  9. Carol

    We need to protect and preserve our top animal predators to keep the other animals in check and healthy especially then the other species reproduce at a faster rate. Besides what we are doing is self serving and cruel.

    Reply
  10. Dan De Yo

    People need to think before they eat. For someone to order shark fin soup in a restaurant after hearing all of the negative press about the horrible death these animals must endure after being ‘finned’ is unconscionable.

    Reply
  11. Kevin Keene

    Humans are the top predator on this planet through our grossly irresponsible actions!

    Reply
  12. Dorothy L. Maurer

    Why are we constantly interfering with the balance of nature! We humans like to think we’re so inteligent??? I wonder.

    Reply
  13. JOHN R.

    Part of China killed off the fox because they ate chicken. After the fox were gone, Swarms of RATS ate all the grain and vegetables. Which one was the worst? Mess with Mother Nature and we reap what we sow. Your comment.

    Reply
  14. Cori

    As the primary predators, we seem to want to kill off the top predators in the animal world. I don’t think most of us have evolved all that much–

    Reply
  15. Leslie Stanick

    Tragically for sharks, the city of Richmond, BC, Canada, has NOT banned shark finning. Richmond has a very large Chinese population, and Alice Wong, Richmond’s Conservative Member of Parliament, posed for a photo eating shark fin soup. She supports the “right” of Chinese people to celebrate weddings and other important occasions with shark fin soup, as a status symbol. Eco-friendly alternatives are available but many Chinese defend the right to kill sharks for their fins. Please write to her and tell her to urge the Chinese community to stop eating shark fin. We want all restaurants to stop serving this “delicacy”, and save the lives of sharks, and the balance of the marine ecosystem instead.

    Reply
  16. Diane Bolter

    All animals need to be appreciated, whether animals of the sea or of the land!!! All animals need to be respected, and it does not depend on where they live!!! I’am just sickened and disgusted by the lack of sympathy for all the animals that receive abuse!!! Start making a difference in all animals lives, start being a responsible person and/or persons and do what is right for all animals that call planet earth their home.

    Reply
  17. Eva Kraemer

    Sharks are at the top of the food chain; they are vital to the health and well-being of the ocean’s ecosystem. We must save them.

    Reply
  18. Eric Vanacore

    STOP THE SLAUGHTER !

    LIFE IS NOT AN ACQUIRED BUT AN EXTRAORDINARY CHANCE.
    HUMAN KIND IS A HOLOCAUST TO LIFE ON PLANET EARTH.
    And for himself. We can see this every single day !!!

    PROTECT AND RESPECT ANY FORMS OF LIFE,
    FOR NOT TO ELIMINATE ANY LIVING BEING,
    ANIMAL, VEGETATION, MINERAL,
    THESE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS that WE HAVE ALL:
    THE LOVE and THE LIFE.

    In our soul and conscience.
    With our weapon the Conscience…NOW !
    In our tears and conscience…Too late.
    Sign, share ! Please, Thank You !!!

    ARRÊTER LE MASSACRE !

    LA VIE N’EST PAS UN ACQUIS, MAIS UNE CHANCE INOUÏE.
    L’HUMANITÉ EST UN HOLOCAUSTE ENVERS LA VIE DE LA PLANÈTE TERRE.

    PROTÉGER ET RESPECTER TOUTES FORMES DE VIE,
    POUR NE SUPPRIMER à AUCUN ÊTRE VIVANT, ANIMAL, VÉGÉTAL, MINÉRAL,
    CES DROITS FONDAMENTAUX que NOUS AVONS TOUS :
    L’AMOUR & LA VIE.

    ARRÊTER LE MASSACRE !
    En notre âme et conscience.
    En notre arme la conscience…Maintenant !
    En nos larmes et conscience…Trop tard…
    Inévitable ! Inné…Vital…
    Signez, partagez ! S.V.P., Merci !!!

    In our Soul and Concience.
    With our weapon the Conscience…NOW !
    In our Tears and Conscience…Too Late…
    Sign, Share, Please !!!
    Thank YOU !!!
    PLEASE HELP TO STOP THE SLAUGHTER !

    Reply
  19. Kathleen Loughlin

    We must all work to save the shark and all the animals that are in danger from humans!

    Reply

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