The Beacon

Blog Tags: Sharks

Delaware House Takes Action for Sharks

Delaware, Let's keep shark fins where they belong -- On sharks, not in soups. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, the Delaware House of Representatives took a huge step forward for shark conservation efforts worldwide when they passed a bill that would prohibit the trade of shark fins within their state borders. House Bill 41 bans the sale, possession, and distribution of shark fins, which are commonly used in the Asian delicacy shark fin soup.  Demand for these products drives the harmful and wasteful practice of shark finning, which is responsible for the deaths of millions of sharks every year and the depletion of populations worldwide.


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Infographic: Shark Attacks

A new study published earlier this year in Marine Policy put the number of sharks slaughtered each year at 100 million, or roughly three sharks caught per second. Outraged by these shocking numbers, Joe Chernov and Robin Richards created an infographic to put the figures in perspective. While shark attacks on humans do happen (there were 12 fatal ones last year) the existential threat humans pose to the future of sharks is far graver. While there's a lot to be said about the horrors of shark finning, we'll let this graphic do the talking.


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Great Shark News from Delaware and Abroad

Oceanic whitetip stands to benefit from new regulations. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This week brought great news for shark populations that are dwindling both in U.S. waters and worldwide. Today, the Delaware House of Representatives introduced a bill prohibiting the possession, trade, sale and distribution of shark fins within the state. If passed, House Bill 41 would make Delaware the first East Coast state to pass a ban on the shark fin trade, following in the footsteps of Oregon, Washington, California, Hawaii and Illinois.

Current federal law prohibits shark finning in U.S. waters, requiring that sharks be brought into port with their fins still attached.  However, this law does not prohibit the sale and trade of processed fins that are imported into the country from other regions that could have weak or even nonexistent shark protections in place.

This unsustainable catch is driven by the demand for shark fins, often used as an ingredient in shark fin soup, and kills millions of sharks every year. Delaware’s bill would close the loopholes that fuel the trade and demand for fins, and ensure that the state is not a gateway for shark products to enter into other U.S. state markets.  

Not only was there great news coming out of the U.S., international shark lovers have reason to celebrate as well. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), voted this week to place stricter regulations on the trade of manta rays, three species of hammerheads, oceanic whitetip and porbeagle sharks, acknowledging that these species are in dire need of protection.  When countries export these species, they are required to possess special permits that prove these species were harvested sustainably.  This decision will greatly curb illegal overfishing and reduce the numbers of endangered sharks killed globally.


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New Report: 100 Million Sharks Are Killed Each Year

Shark fins at a Hong Kong market. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

There’s a new estimate for how many sharks are killed each year by fishermen worldwide and the news is grim. Despite growing awareness of the threat sharks face and legislative efforts around the globe to stem the unsustainable harvest of sharks, a new study published this week in Marine Policy puts the number slaughtered each year at 100 million sharks, or three sharks caught per second.

Due to the incomplete nature of the data for shark catches, that number could be as low as 63 million or as high as 273 million, but both the high and low end estimates are outside of safe biological limits. According to the study’s authors, this number represents approximately 7% of all sharks in the ocean. On average, shark populations can grow at a maximum rate of 5% per year.  As can be seen, shark populations cannot grow fast enough to sustain this enormous removal each year, which is why sharks numbers have declined so dramatically in recent years.

The primary culprit for this staggering level of exploitation remains the same: overfishing and bycatch, driven by the unabated demand for shark fin soup, the consumption of which is seen as a status symbol in China. The fin itself is a largely flavorless component of the soup and provides no additional nutritional value.

Sharks are especially vulnerable to overfishing due to their slow growth, late maturation and small litters, with biological life histories that more closely resemble large mammals than other fish. Some sharks, like the Atlantic Ocean's dusky shark, do not mature until as late as 21 years of age and give birth to as few as three pups every three years.

Oceana is fighting to protect sharks around the world. Learn more about what we do.


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Pura vida! (Pure life!)

On February 8, Oceana and National Geographic launched an expedition to explore the waters off of the remote Desventuradas Islands more than 500 miles off the coast of Chile. By documenting marine life and habitat the team hopes to persuade the Chilean government to protect more than 60,000 miles surroundinig this archipelago. Below is an expedition journal entry from Oceana South America Vice President Alex Munoz. Photos © Oceana

After more than a week of expedition, this place continues to surprise us. Yosy discovered a coordinate on the map very close to San Félix that corresponds to a seamount whose peak is only 10 meters deep. This means it is the perfect place to go to with our divers and submarine DeepSee. 

We leave early in Argo to look for the seamount. After a few hours, the echo sounder detects 10 meters! Yosy had been right! The group of scientists and cameramen quickly get into the water. 

Enric, Avi and I are the fortunate ones that will go in the DeepSee to a completely unknown place. As we start to descend, Avi, our pilot, says, “This is the exact definition of exploration!” And wow, was he right. As my colleagues and I are very excited, before we know it, we have reached 130 meters. Thousands of fish, from brecas to Jack mackerel, sharks to vidriolas surround us. 


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Free Diver Swims With Great White Shark to Save Them



While we’re going to file this under the “don’t try this at home” category, a promotional video for the GoPro underwater camera showing a free diver from Hawaii swimming with a great white shark is bringing immense amounts of attention to this majestic predator, and encouraging many to rethink the great white’s fearsome “Jaws” reputation.

The video, entitled “A Blonde and a Great White Shark” shows diver Ocean Ramsey (yes, you read that right) approaching a great white shark and stroking the shark’s back before gently holding its dorsal fin while it swims through clear azure waters. With more than half a million views, the video, appropriately released on Valentine’s Day, shows that the great white shark as a magnificent ocean creature to be respected, loved, and protected, rather than a deadly man-eater to be feared. Ramsey’s website, www.waterinspired.com, quotes the Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum: “ ‘In the end people will only protect what they love, and only love what they understand . . .’ I hope that by sharing my experiences with sharks I might inspire others to take action and help protect these amazing creatures before it's too late,” Ramsey writes.


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French Polynesia and the Cook Islands Create World’s Largest Shark Sanctuary

A sicklefin lemon shark breathes a little easier in the shark sanctuary of French Polynesia. Source: Wikimedia Commons

With as many as a third of all shark species in the world facing some threat of extinction, the future of sharks has been in peril for some time now. This month, however, French Polynesia and the Cook Islands have taken a stand for sharks, creating adjacent shark sanctuaries covering 2.5 million square miles of ocean – an area nearly equal to the continent of Australia! With this move, French Polynesia and the Cook Islands join Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas, the Marshall Islands, and Tokelau as countries that have created shark sanctuaries, more than doubling the area worldwide now off-limits to shark fishing. This largest sanctuary in the world also bans the possession, sale, or trade of shark products within its boundaries.


On December 6, French Polynesia created the world’s largest shark sanctuary at 1.5 million square miles, and the neighboring nation of the Cook Islands followed suit on December 19 with its designation of its entire exclusive economic zone – an area equal to the size of Mexico at 756,000 square miles -- as dedicated shark sanctuary waters. “We are proud as Cook Islanders to provide our entire exclusive economic zone…as a shark sanctuary,” Teina Bishop, Cook Island minister of marine resources told BBC News.


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Victory! Strict Shark Finning Ban Moves Forward in Europe

Blue shark

Blue sharks are targeted for their fins. © Karin Leonard/Marine Photobank

Today we moved closer to a complete ban on shark finning in the European Union!

The Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament voted in Brussels today to support a strict ban on shark finning, both in European Union waters and on EU ships worldwide. The European Union contains several major shark fishing nations, responsible for 14% of all reported shark catches worldwide.

This new policy would close loopholes in EU’s existing shark finning policy, which allowed some vessels to remove fins at sea. It will have to be approved by the rest of the Parliament before it can go into effect.

Shark finning is a cruel and wasteful practice where fishers cut off a shark’s fins, often while it is still alive, and then toss the rest of the shark overboard to die. Sharks everywhere are facing strong fishing pressures, with many species now classified as threatened or endangered. When only fins are collected, more sharks can be caught, and the species may not be identifiable on-shore, putting threatened and endangered sharks at more risk.

The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 made shark finning illegal in US waters, requiring fishers to bring the entire shark to shore. In the EU, shark finning has technically been prohibited since 2003, but the policy voted on today will remove an exemption that allowed some vessels to continue removing fins on-board and made enforcement of the ban difficult.

Put together, EU countries form the largest shark fishing entity in the world, and we are thrilled that the Parliament is taking this important step to protect sharks in their waters, after several years of campaigning by Oceana's team in Europe. “The vote of the Fisheries Committee sends a strong message to the wider Parliament: the EU, which catches the largest share of sharks worldwide, must set a global example when it comes to policy on shark finning,” says Xavier Pastor, Executive Direction of Oceana Europe.


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Guest Post: Live from the Seafood Summit

©Wikimedia Commons

Editor's note: This is a guest post by Simone Lewis-Koskinen, Program Assistant at SeaWeb, reporting from the Seafood Summit in Hong Kong. Oceana is a sponsor of the summit. 

After many months and several thousand emails, phone calls and meetings, the Seafood Summit has arrived! SeaWeb’s 10th Annual Seafood Summit in Hong Kong, kicked off this Wednesday with a series of pre-Summit activities exploring the existing and future horizons of the eco-certification landscape, investment mechanisms for fisheries and local seafood markets. Despite the jet lag, most of the participants were in high spirits and eager to mingle, setting the tone for what’s sure to be the best Summit yet.

The following three days will see a flurry of panels, workshops and meetings that get at the heart of some of the most pressing issues facing the seafood industry. From climate change to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, the topics run the gamut, promising a healthy dose of debate and discussion.

Panels addressing tuna and shark issues are particularly likely to spark some heated debates given the cultural and traditional ties to the region. From Friday’s panel discussion on local trends around shark fins and consumer attitudes, to Saturday’s workshop on sustainable shark fisheries, Hong Kong is shaping up to be the perfect place to elevate these dialogues to the next level.

Other sessions likely to provide some interesting food for thought examine the relationship between seafood and the consumer, exploring the various avenues to engage consumers in the discussion. As the Holy Grail for many conservation groups, sessions sharing tools and lessons learned around translating consumer awareness into behavior change are sure to spark a lot of interest.

The Seafood Summit is an annual event hosted by SeaWeb that brings together global representatives from the seafood industry and conservation community for in-depth discussions, presentations and networking around the issue of sustainable seafood. The goal of the Summit is to foster dialogue and partnerships that lead to a seafood marketplace that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. The breadth and depth of topics, discussions and perspectives serves as a catalyst for new solutions as one of the premiere events in the seafood community.

Looking back at past Summits, this year’s event represents the first steps into new territory. Traditionally held in Europe and North America, bringing the Seafood Summit to Hong Kong is an important step for helping the sustainable seafood movement engage more effectively with the Asian marketplace. Many of the presentations so far have acknowledged the growing role Asia has and will continue to play in the path towards sustainability. In the days, months and years to come, this initial foray will surely be remembered as setting the stage for many of the lasting relationships formed at the 2012 Seafood Summit.  


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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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