The Beacon

Blog Tags: Sharks

Thursday Trivia: Whale Shark

whale shark

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world and can fit a human inside its mouth. But don’t be afraid: this huge fish eats only plankton and small fish, which it gathers by pumping water over its gills.

The whale shark is one of three sharks that filter feeds, and the only one that does so actively rather than relying on simply swimming forward with its mouth open. Despite this, the whale shark has about 300 very small teeth, the purpose of which is unknown.

In addition to being the largest species of fish on the planet, whale sharks also have the thickest skin of any animal – about four inches thick. This skin is decorated with a pattern of yellowish white dots that is unique to each shark.

Whale sharks are usually solitary, but they can feed in groups. One particularly striking example of this behavior occurs around April off Australia, when immature males gather to feast on particularly plentiful plankton. Throughout their travels, whale sharks often cross entire oceans.

Whale sharks are considered vulnerable. One of the most important threats they face is shark finning – although their fins are not very popular to eat, because they are so large, they are highly prized for displays. In 1999, just one whale shark fin sold for around £11,000. Other threats include hunting for liver oil and meat and being caught accidentally as bycatch. It’s not all bad news, though! Some areas are protecting whale sharks in order to foster ecotourism.

Oceana’s shark campaign focuses on reducing shark bycatch, establishing shark finning bans, and implementing species-specific shark management.

You can learn more about whale sharks from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia, watch Oceana spokesperson January Jones swim with the gentle giants and take action to protect them.


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Victory! West Coast Shark Fin Ban Complete

oceanic whitetip shark

At last, the good news you've been waiting for: California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill banning the trade of shark fins.

California has joined the ranks of Washington State, Oregon and Hawaii, who have all passed similar bans. Oceana supported this legislation from the beginning, and we are thrilled that Governor Brown has passed it into law, completing a West Coast ban.

Each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins, mostly to make shark fin soup. In this wasteful and cruel practice, a shark’s fins are sliced off while at sea and the remainder of the animal is thrown back into the water to die. Without fins, sharks bleed to death, drown, or are eaten by other species. In recent decades some shark populations have declined by as much as 99%.

Removing sharks from ocean ecosystems can destabilize the ocean food web and even lead to declines in populations of other species, including commercially-caught fish and shellfish species lower in the food web. While shark finning is illegal in the U.S., current federal laws banning the practice do not address the issue of the shark fin trade, so shark fins are imported to the U.S. from countries with few or even no shark protections in place.

“Today is a landmark day for shark conservation around the globe” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s Senior Pacific Director. “The leadership shown by legislatures and governors of California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii sends a strong message that the entire US West Coast will no longer play a role in the global practice of shark finning that is pushing many shark species to the brink of extinction.”

A huge thanks to everyone who called your legislators and Governor Brown and helped secure this enormous victory for our oceans' top predators!


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CEO Note: Victory! West Coast Shark Fin Ban Complete

I’m thrilled to report that as of this afternoon, the entire U.S. West Coast has now banned the trade of shark fins.

After months of work by Oceana and our allies, California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill banning the trade of shark fins, joining the ranks of a growing number of governments rallying to protect the top predators in the oceans. Washington State, Oregon and Hawaii have all passed similar bans.

As Oceana shark spokesperson January Jones and I wrote in the Huffington Post, each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins, mostly to make shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. Shark finning is a shocking practice in which a shark's fins are sliced off at sea and the animal is thrown back in the water to bleed to death. Shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, but that didn’t stop the shark fin trade.

According to government data, approximately 85 percent of dried shark fin imports to the United States came through California last year, making California the hub of the US shark fin market. Thanks to Governor Brown, this will no longer be the case.

Sharks have been on the planet for more than 400 million years, but populations around the world are crashing. They play a vital role in maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems, but due to their slow growth rate and low level of reproduction, sharks are especially vulnerable to fishing pressure.

We couldn’t have scored this monumental victory for sharks without you. Thanks to all of you for helping protect the oceans’ top predators.


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'Demon Fish' Author Discusses Human-Shark Relations

demon fish

When journalist Juliet Eilperin began reporting the stories that have led to her most recent book, she says, “Many people said it was a natural transition from politicians to sharks.” 

At a National Geographic Live event in DC last night, she discussed her book “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks,” about how human relationships with sharks have developed over centuries, and what may lie in their future.

She began by discussing the central role sharks played in the lives of traditional island cultures, from the shark god whom Hawaiians credited with inventing surfing to the common belief that sharks protected ships. But Eilperin said that during the Middle Ages, many European cultures essentially forgot about sharks.

Stark reminders of their power came when sailors noticed sharks following slave ships, and again in the early 1900s, when shark attacks on beachgoers were widely publicized. These incidents played into political campaigns and prompted government committees.

“There’s no question,” Eilperin said, “that Jaws had an incredible impact” on popular perceptions of sharks and their danger to humans. On average, shark attacks kill only five people a year, far less than other large predators, diseases, or even vending machines. However, she is quick to note that while plenty of people—even marine biologists!—were caught up in the scare, there were also some who became inspired to study sharks.


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Victory! California Senate Passes Shark Fin Trade Ban

Things continue to look up for sharks in the Pacific.

Last night the California Senate passed a ban on the sale, trade, possession, and distribution of shark fins in the state.  Oceana was instrumental in the passage of this bill to protect the ocean’s apex predators.

If the bill is signed into law by Governor Brown by October 9, a sweeping West Coast ban on the trade of shark fins will be complete. Washington passed similar legislation in May, followed by Oregon in early August. Hawaii, Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands have also passed similar bills.

While shark finning is illegal in the U.S., current federal laws banning the practice do not address the issue of the shark fin trade. As a result, fins are imported to the U.S. from countries with little to no shark protections in place. The only way to really address California’s contribution to the global declines in shark populations is to address the market demand for fins in the state.

The passage of this bill will help to protect global populations of at-risk shark species that are being targeted in unsustainable and unregulated fisheries worldwide.

Thanks to everyone who spoke up to help score this victory for sharks! You can see a list of the Senators who voted "aye" for the bill here.


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Friday Infographic: Sharks

We’ve been featuring infographics by artist Don Foley for the past few Fridays, but we thought it appropriate wrap up shark week with a snazzy infographic by shark-loving blogger Kaelah Bee.

Thanks for celebrating shark week with us - don't forget to take action to protect threatened sharks if you haven't already!

Infographic by Kaelah Bee. Click to enlarge.

 

 


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Breaking: Oregon Governor Signs Shark Fin Trade Ban

Great news this shark week! We just got word that Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber will sign a bill this afternoon banning the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins in the state. Oceana was instrumental in the passage of this bill, which passed the State House and Senate with bipartisan support. 

The bill’s passage moves the U.S. West Coast closer to a full ban on the trade of shark fins, thereby helping to protect global populations of at-risk shark species that are being targeted in unsustainable and unregulated fisheries worldwide.

While shark finning is illegal in the U.S., current federal laws banning the practice do not address the shark fin trade. As a result, fins are being imported to the U.S. from countries with few or even no shark protections in place. 

Governor Chris Gregoire of Washington State signed similar legislation into law on May 12, 2011 and a bill in the California legislature passed the Assembly and is currently under consideration in committee in the Senate.

We commend Governor Kitzhaber for his extraordinary leadership to protect the ocean’s top predators, and congratulate our Pacific colleagues for their work in achieving this victory!


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Kristin Bauer: Let’s Save Sharks this Shark Week

kristin bauer

Actress and Oceana supporter Kristin Bauer.

I might play a blood-sucking vampire on “True Blood,” but in real life I’m a devoted animal lover and conservationist.

In the past few weeks, I’ve followed the proposed ban on the shark fin trade in California, and – in honor of Shark Week – I wanted to share a letter I recently wrote to California State Senator Paul Fong asking for his help to protect sharks:



Dear Assemblymember Fong and Members of the Legislature:


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Shark Myths vs. Facts

whale shark

The largest fish in the ocean, the whale shark. © Tony Rath

Editor's note: Happy Shark Week! All week long we are re-capping some highlights from Shark Week programming. Today we review last night's "How Sharks Hunt."

Sharks have been swimming the world’s oceans for over 400 million years, which has given them plenty of time to evolve into some of the most effective marine predators. There are hundreds of species of sharks, and yet each one has its own preferred prey (fortunately, none of them prefer humans) and also a unique way of hunting.

Last night's episode, "How Sharks Hunt," featured Dave and Cody from Discovery Channel’s Dual Survival series as they explored the various methods that sharks stalk and attack their prey. There was a lot of exciting underwater footage taken by high-tech cameras showing various sharks in hunting mode.

For more info on sharks and their amazing abilities, check out Oceana’s myths versus facts sheet, where we set the record straight on some of the most common (and some of the most unusual) myths about sharks.

Here are a few examples:

Myth: Sharks are all the same.

Fact: Shark species are incredibly diverse with very different sizes, shapes, habitats, diets and behaviors. There are approximately 500 shark species, but only three (white, tiger and bull) are responsible for the majority of all bites.


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Can Sharks 'Go Rogue'?

great white shark

Great white shark in South Africa. [Image via Discovery.com]

Editor's note: Happy Shark Week! All week long we'll be re-capping some highlights from Shark Week programming. Today we review "Going Rogue" and "Summer of the Shark."

Would a shark ever “go rogue” and start mercilessly attacking humans? That’s the question that last night’s episode in the Shark Week lineup sought to answer. Ever since New England beachgoers were terrorized by a rogue shark in “Jaws,” it has been a common fear that sharks, particularly great whites, are ruthless, man-eating machines.

This episode shed some light on the matter with a mix of shark attack stories and scientific studies on shark behavior. The conclusions likely elicited a collective sigh of relief across America: Sharks have never in fact gone rogue like Jaws did, but instead almost always bite a human as a result of other environmental factors at play.

In reality, the likelihood of being attacked by a shark is extremely slim. So for all the readers out there who were wondering whether it was safe to go back in the water, consider the possibility of a shark going rogue to be out of the question.


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