The Beacon: Michelle Cassidy's blog
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.”
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.
Happy Shark Week!
Sharks are the center of a lot of stories and urban legends, but you might be surprised by the truth behind some of the most common myths about sharks. In honor of Shark Week, we’re going to dispel some of the major myths surrounding sharks and shark behavior.
MYTH #1: All sharks are voracious predators, looking to attack anything in sight, including humans.
FACT: While some shark species do have aggressive tendencies, most hunt only to find food (and humans aren’t on the menu). Just like other top predators, sharks make a meal out of animals lower in the food web, keeping the ocean habitat in balance. Only a few species have been known to attack humans unprovoked, and that’s often because of poor visibility or inquisitive bites. There are even species, like the whale shark and the basking shark, that are filter feeders that eat fish eggs, krill, and other microorganisms in the water.
MYTH #2: Sharks do not attack at midday.
FACT: It’s true that there are fewer attacks in the middle of the day, but that’s not because sharks aren’t active then—it’s because everybody’s out of the water eating lunch. Sharks are most active at dawn and dusk, but it’s possible to encounter at shark at nearly any time of day.
MYTH #3: Sharks have walnut-sized brains.
FACT: Sharks are actually pretty smart! They have some of the largest brains in the fish world (along with their close relatives, rays), and their brain-to-body size ratios are similar to birds and mammals. Sharks have been known to exhibit complex social behavior, curiosity, and play in the wild. Many species live in groups and hunt in packs.
MYTH #4: In order to stay alive, a shark must constantly be moving.
FACT: The movement of swimming allows water to pass over a shark’s gills so that they can breathe, but some species have adaptations that allow them to stay still and breathe at the same time. When resting, some sharks can lie on the sea floor and actively pump water over their gills.
MYTH #5: Sharks have no predators.
FACT: Yes it’s true that sharks are at the top of the food chain, but they have a very powerful predator: humans. Each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins, sport, or caught and killed as bycatch. By removing so many of these important predators without allowing them time to restore their populations, we’re disrupting the balance of the marine food web.
The great white shark, the most iconic shark in the ocean, faces serious threats off the West coast of the United States. Only a few hundred are left, and their populations aren’t recovering quickly — unless we do something. Sign today to help improve protections for great white sharks in the Pacific.
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!
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!
The Canary Islands are in the oil industry’s crosshairs, and that spells danger for the area’s marine habitats and wildlife.
In a new report, Oceana has denounced oil prospecting plans in the Canary Islands, highlighting the dangerous impact of these activities on cold-water coral reefs, deep sponge fields, hydrothermal vents, and nearly 100 protected species.
Spanish oil company Repsol is planning to prospect in the Canary Islands Channel, located off the northwest coast of Africa. The channel contains gas-based habitats that are protected under the Habitats Directive. These habitats support coral and sponge communities that would be destroyed by oil prospecting activity.
A total of 25 protected areas and 82 endangered species would be threatened by Repsol’s prospecting activities. These include sea turtles, short finned pilot whales, angel sharks, bottlenose dolphins, and a variety of fish.
The International Maritime Organization has declared the Canary Islands a Particularly Sensitive Area for its biological wealth and its economic dependence. This status affords the islands’ strict protection in terms of waste and pollution.
The Canary Islands is an archipelago supported by fishing and tourism. Both of these industries rely on the islands’ high biodiversity—more than 600 species and 350 communities and habitats. Oil prospecting would interfere with fishing and tourism, and reduce the biodiversity of the area.
We'll be sure to keep you posted!
Think that you could survive in the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean? Probably not, but beluga whales have certainly found a way.
The beluga whale, sometimes known as the white whale, is an unusual-looking marine mammal. A typical individual can be 13-20 feet long, and with its white coloring and distinctively lumpy head, the beluga is one of a kind. You can find belugas way up north in the waters of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Russia.
Beluga whales have many adaptations that allow them to live in extremely cold waters. They don’t have a dorsal fin, which is believed to help them survive under ice. They have round bodies and a thick layer of blubber to keep out the cold.
So what’s with that protruding lump on the beluga’s head? It’s called a melon, and other marine mammals like dolphins and porpoises have it too. It’s an organ with lots of oils and fats that is believed to be important during echolocation. The melon of a beluga whale is unique: by blowing air around its sinuses, a beluga whale can change the shape of its melon, which may be used in specialized under-ice echolocation.
The beluga whale is referred to as a sea canary, because of its high-pitched song. Individuals use squeaks, clucks and whistles to communicate with each other. Belugas are a very social species, and live together in groups called pods. When they move into bays, estuaries, and rivers during the summer they have been known to congregate in the thousands. Pods aren’t permanent though—belugas switch social groups frequently, sometimes moving hundreds of miles to join another group.
Beluga whales are smart and playful, and like to spit water at other whales or their keepers in aquariums. They’re the only whale species that’s commonly kept in aquariums, though captive breeding programs haven’t been successful.
Worldwide, beluga whales are ranked as near threatened by the IUCN. A subpopulation in the Cook Inlet in Alaska is listed as critically endangered. They suffer from pollution, especially in the rivers and estuaries they spend their summers in—there have been incidents of cancer in beluga whales linked to pollution in the St. Lawrence River. If we want these unique whales to be around in the future, we have to keep their environment safe and clean.
How would you feel if you found out the red snapper on your plate wasn’t red snapper at all, but instead something illegally fished or potentially unhealthy? A new Oceana study found that 31% of seafood we tested in South Florida is mislabeled, keeping consumers in the dark about what they’re really eating.
Our campaigners used DNA testing on seafood samples from grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach areas. We’ve conducted studies like this in other cities, and the results from Los Angeles and Boston were even more striking—55% of seafood in L.A. was mislabeled and 48% in Boston.
But just because the numbers are lower in South Florida doesn’t mean that seafood fraud is any more acceptable. Some of the fish being served under a different name pose risks to health and sustainability. The study found that king mackerel, a high mercury fish with a health warning for sensitive groups, was being marketed as ‘grouper.’
Sushi restaurants were the biggest offenders, with 58% of samples found to be mislabeled. All the samples of white tuna collected from sushi vendors were actually escolar, a fish species that can make people sick.
The large amount of seafood coming into the U.S. market can make it difficult to trace each item to its source. Oceana is calling on the federal government to ensure that the seafood we find in our markets is safe, legal, and honestly labeled. By implementing a traceability system, consumers can make informed decisions about what they put on their plate.
Sign the petition to fight seafood fraud and ensure you’re getting what you order.
We’re pleased to announce that the Spanish government has put an end to proposed oil industry development that would have threatened the Doñana National Park, a World Heritage Site, after campaigning by Oceana and our allies.
Plans to build an oil refinery in the Gulf of Cadiz, not far from Doñana, would have led to higher ship traffic in the area and a higher risk of oil spills or accidents during the tankers’ unloading operations. Oceana is currently working to create a Marine Protected Area in this section of the Gulf of Cadiz, which would be linked to the National Park.
Doñana National Park was established in 1993 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Its marshes, streams, and sand dunes are home to plants and animals found almost nowhere else in the world.
Many migratory birds spend their winters in the park lands, and endangered species like the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx (one of the world’s most endangered cat species) call this area home. In the marshes of Doñana National Park, you can also find birds like the Avocet and the Purple Heron, both of which depend on the sensitive estuary habitats.
Increased oil tanker traffic could have potentially damaged the already vulnerable habitats of these animals.
Oceana identified the threats posed by the construction of this oil refinery in 2005, and has been campaigning against it with other conservationist groups. Oceana Europe is now calling on the Spanish government to enact similar protections for other marine protected areas.
You’ve been waiting with bated breath to find out who this year’s Ocean Heroes are, and the time has finally come to announce our winners!
We received over 400 fantastic nominations this year, and narrowed it down to six adult finalists and five junior finalists. Thousands of your votes determined the winners, and we’re excited to announce that our adult Ocean Hero is Captain Don Voss and our Junior Ocean Hero is James Hemphill.
Captain Don Voss, from Fort Pierce, Florida, is the owner of the Marine Cleanup Initiative Inc., a debris collection organization that cleans up Florida’s waterways. Over the last 11 years, the company has grown from six volunteers to over 400, who have collectively removed over 300,000 pounds of marine debris. Don started SCUBA diving as a form of therapy after he was wounded in Vietnam, and his love for the ocean motivated him to help clean up the waterways that he loved to dive in.
Don was thrilled to hear that he had won, and is excited for the future of his work.
“I’m 64 now and keep thinking I’ll go back to recreational diving, but every time I go back in the water I find myself picking up debris. People need to understand that this is an ecosystem and that every one thing affects the next thing… What I’ve learned from my grandchildren, if you want an adult to stop doing something, you tell the kids. I’m hoping is that I can get more kids involved with diving, I can get less debris in the water and the water quality improves.”
And if there’s any kid who’s involved with getting debris out of the water, it’s our Junior Ocean Hero, James Hemphill. At 15 years old, James has already been working in ocean conservation for several years. He’s the president of Project Green Teens, a student-run environmental group that promotes conservation in Virginia Beach. They have removed 2,300 pounds of trash from Virginia waterways, and are currently working on a plastic bag ban in Virginia Beach.
James wants kids his age to know that getting involved in conservation is easy, and you can make a big difference by making some changes in your lifestyle.
“Start out with the little creeks that run into the ocean and start small where you can physically see the results. Get a group of friends that are interested and experiment. There’s no such thing as failure… it’s just a matter of how much effort you’re willing to put into it.”
Congratulations to Don and James, and all of our amazing finalists!
Thanks to our corporate sponsors at Nautica and Revo Sunglasses for helping make the Ocean Heroes Awards possible. Our winners will receive a prize package that includes a $500 gift card to Nautica and a pair of Revo sunglasses, made with a 100% recycled frame and polarized lenses, perfect for spending days out on the water.