The Beacon

Blog Tags: Great White Sharks

The Myth of the Rogue Shark

That man-eating shark from Jaws may be fictional, but that doesn’t stop people from believing that sharks are out to get us — even though it’s not true at all.

Chris Neff, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, gave this talk at TEDxSydney about his research on the politics of shark attacks. In it, he identifies the three main misconceptions when it comes to shark-human interactions:

1. Sharks do not “attack”.
2. Rogue sharks don’t exist.
3. People don’t always react negatively to sharks following a shark bite.

Stories of sharks biting humans are uncommon, but get a lot of media attention when they do happen and are often sensationalized. A recent increase in shark accidents in Sydney, Australia prompted calls for a massive culling of the shark population.

But the thing is, sharks aren’t attacking humans maliciously. As Neff says, “trying to govern ungovernable events distracts us from real shark bite prevention.” Instead of killing even more of these important predators, we should be restricting areas where humans can swim and dive and changing our own behavior to prevent future accidents.

Because when it comes to sharks, “we’re in the way, not on the menu.”


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Creature Feature: Great White Shark

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Great whites have earned a bad reputation, but they don't deserve it ©Discovery Channel

They’re the stars of Shark Week, one of the most iconic creatures in the ocean. But how well do you really know the great white shark?

White sharks are known by many names—great white, white pointer, Carcharodon carcharias, even white death. They’re the largest existing predatory fish in the ocean, and they’ve been around for about 16 million years. They’re found in coastal waters in all of the world’s major oceans.

The average great white measures in around 14 feet long (the females are generally a few feet longer than the males). An average individual weighs between 1,500 and 2,400 pounds. The largest white sharks ever measured came in around 20 feet long and weighed nearly 5,000 pounds.

All that size makes these sharks powerful predators. Their bite force is an estimated 1.8 tons—that’s 20 times the bite force of the average human! This powerful bite is coupled with multiple rows of sharp, serrated teeth that help the shark saw off pieces of fish.

Great whites also have an additional sense that allows them to detect the electromagnetic field emitted by the movement of living animals. By searching for these tiny electromagnetic pulses and using their excellent sense of smell, sharks can seek out prey from miles away.

In the social structure of white sharks, females dominate males, and size matters. They resolve conflict through rituals and displays of power, and rarely attack one another. Some sharks have even shown behavior that appears playful!

Great whites have earned a bad reputation as ferocious man-eaters due to movies like Jaws and stories about rogue sharks attacking humans. Truth is, great whites aren’t all that interested in humans. They would rather eat a fish or a seal than a human. While a significant proportion of shark accidents around the world involve white sharks, most are not fatal. Great whites are curious sharks, and will give an unknown object a sample bite, then release it.

These powerful creatures may be at the top of the food chain, but their biggest predator is humans. Only a few hundred great whites are left in the population off the coasts of California and Mexico, and they’re not getting the protection they need. Sign today to help get great whites covered by the Endangered Species Act.


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Save Shark Week’s Stars

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Great white sharks keep the oceans healthy and balanced ©NOAA

Whether you fear them or admire them, most people have an instant reaction when they hear great white shark.  

Intrigue, mystery, and terror have guided attention on great white sharks since they lit up the screens in the 1975 thriller “Jaws.” The film made history 37 years ago for its chilling characterization of these powerful sharks, and swimming in the open ocean has never been the same since.

Great whites are making history once again, this time for their globally declining populations from bycatch in commercial fisheries, capture in beach protective nets, and slaughter for their fins, teeth, and jaws in the shark fin and curio trade.

Here on the US West Coast, new scientific studies have shed light on the status of great white sharks off California and Baja California, Mexico. Our great white sharks are even more unique than we thought; in fact they are genetically distinct and isolated from all other great white sharks around the world. They congregate off Mexican Islands and the “red triangle” off Central California (including the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes, and Point Sur), and make extensive offshore migrations to the distant “white shark Café” and even to the Hawaiian Islands.

But, sadly there may be as little as a few hundred adult great white sharks remaining in this population, far less than anyone expected. This low population alone puts these great whites at great risk of extinction from natural and human-caused impacts. Continued existence of these West Coast great white sharks is threatened by their low population size, inherent vulnerability to capture, slow growth rate, low reproductive output, and the ongoing threats they face from human activities. This is why Oceana is petitioning the federal government and the state of California to list this population of iconic sharks on the Endangered Species List.

What is threatening great white sharks off California and Mexico?

Young great white sharks are un-intentionally caught as bycatch in commercial fishing entangling nets. Set and drift gillnets--which together target California halibut, yellowtail, white seabass, thresher sharks and swordfish--catch great white shark pups in their nursery grounds.

Since 1980, over 10 great white shark pups have been reported being caught in these nets every year. The scary part is that monitoring of bycatch on these fishing vessels is very low so take of these pups remains underreported. In other words, more great white sharks are caught than we are aware.

Additionally, young great white shark “pups” caught in their nursery grounds off the Southern California coast have the second highest mercury level tested on record for any sharks worldwide. These mercury levels exceed six-fold the established thresholds where harmful physiological effects have been documented in other marine fish. Levels of harmful contaminants of PCBs and DDTs in their liver tissue are the highest observed in any shark species reported to date globally.

Endangered species status will bestow additional protections to white sharks, including better monitoring and management to reduce fishery bycatch and additional research to further understand these fascinating top predators of the sea.

As much as we may fear them for their bad rap, we need great white sharks to keep our oceans healthy. Just as wolves keep deer populations under control, great white sharks play a critical top-down role in structuring the marine ecosystem by keeping prey populations in check, such as sea lions and elephant seals, benefiting our fisheries and abundant wildlife.

Listing the West Coast population of great white sharks on the Endangered Species List will help us learn more about the lives and threats of these amazing animals through additional research funding and protection measures.

Please help us in our efforts to protect US West Coast great white sharks from extinction by signing a letter of support for their listing on the Endangered Species Act.


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Get Ready for Shark Week 2012

Shark Week turns 25 this year! ©Discovery Channel

You’ve been waiting for it all summer, and now it’s finally here — Shark Week returns this Sunday, August 12th! Oceana is again a conservation partner, and we’ve got some fin-ominal stuff in store this year.

Need some help preparing for the sharkiest week of the year? Have no fear, we’re here to help! Here are some ways you can gear up for Shark Week’s 25th year:

1.    Spread the Shark Week Love
Have your friends over for a watch party. Check out Discovery’s programming schedule and pick out the shows that look the best. ”Great White Highway” follows shark scientists in their effort to solve some of the more mysterious behaviors of the most well-known shark in the world. It’s also narrated by our board member Ted Danson! Check it out on Thursday, August 16th at 9 p.m.

2.    Spend Shark Week with Oceana
We’re so excited about Shark Week that we’re going to be live-tweeting all the new shows! Follow along on our Twitter — we’ll be watching along with you and answering your shark questions. And look out for some fun Shark Week swag give-aways.

You can also share photos and stories with us via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.


3.    Protect Sharks
For one week a year, over 30 million Americans are glued to their TV sets, transfixed by incredible stories of amazing, powerful sharks. But the true story is that they can’t save themselves from their top predator: us.

Right now there are only a few hundred adult great white sharks remaining of the U.S. West Coast. They are in danger of extinction, but you can help. Sign today to help great whites off the West Coast get listed under the Endangered Species Act.. [link to action page] You can also help spread the word through social media by signing up at Thunderclap.it/sharkweek.

Make sure that Shark Week isn’t the only time you care about sharks. They’re great to watch on TV, but we need them in the wild, too!


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This Shark Week, Save Great Whites

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Great whites play an important role in the ocean ecosystem ©Terry Goss

During Shark Week we love watching majestic great whites on TV, but if we don’t act soon to protect them, recordings will be the only place they exist.

In the Pacific, great whites are important predators. As the largest predatory fish on the planet, they can reach lengths over 20 feet and weigh more than 5,000 pounds. They’re shaped like torpedoes and can swim through the water at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. Great whites can detect electromagnetic currents in the ocean and have such a sharp sense of smell that they can identify blood in the water from up to 3 miles away.  You can’t deny that these are impressive animals.

As fearsome as they might be as predators, they’re not the killing machines that they’re often identified as. They use all those prey-detecting skills to help keep the marine food web intact — without great whites, the ocean’s balance would be thrown off.

But that might be what the future holds, if nothing is done. A recent study found that there may only be a few hundred adults left swimming off the coast of California and Mexico, far fewer than anyone expected. And those that are left face deadly dangers from fishing nets.

Newborn great whites are often killed by commercial fishing gear off of Southern California and Baja California, making it hard for the populations to stabilize.

Sharks have inhabited the oceans for more than 400 million years and now they’re disappearing because of human actions. We’re working to get US great whites the protection they need — sign today to help get great white sharks on the Endangered Species Act.

Shark Week starts on Sunday – stay tuned for lots more sharky updates!


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Unpacking the Shark Myth: ‘Demon Fish’

demon fish

Washington Post environment and politics reporter Juliet Eilperin has a new book out today that explores the science and mythology behind the ocean’s top predators.

In “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks,” Eilperin travels the globe -- she swims with whale sharks in Belize and great white sharks in South Africa -- to investigate how individuals and cultures relate to sharks and how the misperceptions surrounding them threaten their continued existence on the planet.

The book also includes a few nods to Oceana’s shark campaign work, including our work to combat the use of squalane in beauty products, and actress January Jones’ visit to Capitol Hill to advocate for sharks.  

But enough about us, be sure to check out NPR’s great interview with Eilperin, and catch her on tour in the coming months. You can see her full tour schedule as well as excerpts, reviews and other information about the book at www.demonfishbook.com.

Here’s a book trailer for “Demon Fish” to whet your appetite:

 


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Surfer Holly Beck Swims with Sharks

Holly Beck has an enviable life. A world-class surfer and model, she spends most of the year traveling to the world’s most beautiful places.

Here’s one more reason to envy her -- the Oceana supporter also recently swam with whale sharks and great white sharks. Watch the video below to see footage of Beck swimming within inches of whale sharks and getting giddy when she sees great whites.

After swimming with the great whites she says, “Trust me on this one, the shark didn’t want to eat me.”

Coincidentally, the scientist tagging whale sharks in the first part of the video is Rachel Graham, who has worked with our colleagues in Belize.

You can take action for sharks with another blonde beauty who loves sharks, January Jones, and learn more about Holly Beck at her blog.


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The Scanner

oil rig

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Happy spring Friday!

Offshore drilling was on everyone's lips this week. And while we were disappointed with Obama’s decision to open new areas to drilling, he also cancelled four lease sales in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas that had been scheduled by President Bush and committed to conducting significant scientific research and monitoring before any new lease sales are held in those areas -- which is very good news for Arctic people and ecosystems.

Oceana board member Ted Danson talked about the drilling decision on CNN yesterday. If you’re incensed by Obama’s decision, go ahead and give him a piece of your mind.

In other ocean news,

…U.S. Department of State banned imports of wild-caught Mexican shrimp if they are collected in ways that threaten endangered sea turtles; in other words, turtle excluder devices are now required in Mexico’s shrimp trawl nets.

…NOAA administrator and marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco talked to Smithsonian Magazine about our changing view of the oceans, dead zones and a cohesive national ocean policy.

…Anderson Cooper dove unprotected with great white sharks in South Africa with “shark man” Mike Rutzen. The video includes disturbing footage of a shark being finned and thrown back into the sea, still alive.


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