The Beacon

Blog Tags: Sharks

One Step Closer to a Fin-Free New York

sharkfin

With your help, we can keep this from happening. ©Oceana/LX

New York state is the largest importer of shark fins on the East Coast, but if a new bill passes, this fact could be history.

This trade is driven by a demand for shark fin soup, which can sell for hundreds of dollars. Sadly, shark numbers are dropping worldwide due to relentless fishing for fins, and in many places sharks have their fins cut off while still alive (a cruel practice called “finning”). Finning is illegal in the United States, but the demand for fins in New York and elsewhere in the US add to the pressure. Imported fins can come from countries with less regulations, and many shark populations in the US are dropping dangerously low, with some hammerhead populations falling as much as 98%.

But New York is considering a bill that would ban the trade of shark fins within the state, and we’re so excited to announce that it’s moving forward! After a huge push by Oceana and other shark supporters, which included thousands of your signatures and personal pleas from Leonardo DiCaprio and January Jones, both the Senate and Assembly committees passed the bill. Now it’s up for a vote in the Assembly and Senate. But the New York legislation session ends this week, which means they have to act soon.

We’re still gathering signatures to send to New York legislatures. Please sign today and pass the petition along to your friends. The world’s sharks need you.


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The Shark Finatics are Back

sharkfinatics_shirawani

2010 Junior Ocean Heroes the Shark Finatics are building a shark out of recycled materials. ©ArtsWestchester

Editor’s note: With two days until the launch of the 2012 Ocean Heroes Awards, we have a guest post today from Robin Culler – one of the founders of the Shark Finatics (Junior Award winners, 2010) from the Green Chimneys School in Brewster, NY.

Hello Oceana, it’s been two years since the Shark Finatics were honored to be named Junior Ocean Heroes and now we’re busier than ever. In the past few months, the Finatics have been involved in a few projects:

  • When we heard that two sisters had opened a restaurant in Brooklyn and were serving shark burgers, the kids got fired up. They all wrote letters and drew pictures, pleading them to stop and keep the sharks in the oceans. One boy, totally on his own, got his mom to take him to the restaurant so that he could have a heart-to-heart conversation with one of the sisters! I was thrilled!
  • I took the kids to the aquarium the other month to see the Sand Tigers there. It was really fun as some kids had never even been to an aquarium before. They loved it! One of the reasons we went was that we were invited to submit a project for an art exhibit in White Plains, NY. It is on the fish around Westchester, in the Hudson and the Long Island Sound. Since the Sand Tiger is in the Sound, we created a wonderful portfolio on all aspects of this shark (her name is Shirowani), including text and pictures. We also created a wonderful shark from soda bottles, foil, cardboard, and lots of duct tape and it will all be on display to the public all summer long.
  • I just recently held two workshops at a large conference for educators on the Finatics program. It was so cool having everyone hanging on every word, hearing about how we got started and how we grew. It really is a wonderful story.

As you can tell, we are never without projects to work on! We next have to concentrate, big time, on the shark fin bill in NY. We will be writing letters, getting a petition together, making phone calls, and maybe a trip to legislator offices.

So, long story short, we are thrilled to be staying busy and look forward to seeing who will be the next Ocean Heroes in 2012.

Take care,
Robin 

-You can support Oceana’s and the Finatics’ effort to ban the trade of shark fins in New York state by signing our petition: http://act.oceana.org/letter/l-ny-shark/

-To learn more about the Green Chimney’s School, please go to http://www.greenchimneys.org/

-Don’t forget to come back to Oceana's website on June 6 to nominate a 2012 Ocean Hero


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Tuna Still Feeling the Effects of Fukushima

Bluefin tuna

Bluefin tuna are carrying radiation from Japan to California. ©Oceana/Keith Ellenbogen

It might seem straight out of science fiction, but this story is real – radioactive tuna could be swimming in an ocean near you.

new study found that after last spring’s Fukushima nuclear accident, Pacific Bluefin tuna caught off of San Diego appear to have been contaminated by radioactive materials from last spring’s nuclear accident in Japan.

The March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami led to the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant in central Japan. Even now, the only way to enter the zone 20 kilometers around the plant is with special government permission. After the accident, tests showed that concentrations of radioactive Cesium in coastal waters increased up to 10,000-fold.

This study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found the same radioactive Cesium in 15 Bluefin tuna specimens caught outside of San Diego. The fish tested showed a 10-fold increase from normal Cesium concentrations, well below the safety limit established by Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishes.

Bluefin are a highly migratory species – they spawn in the West Pacific near Japan, then, once they have matured, may travel more than 9,000 miles to the East Pacific and the California coast. They’re such strong swimmers that the trip only takes a few months.

During the course of this trip, the radioactive concentration fell as the fish grew and the Cesium decayed. If they had tested tuna from Japan, the radiation would be expected to be up to 15 times more concentrated, according to Daniel Madigan, Zofia Baumann, and Nicholas Fisher, the co-authors of the study.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch already lists bluefin as a species to avoid due to severe overfishing and high mercury levels. They’re highly valued as sushi fish, which has led to a steep decline in their populations in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Bluefin tuna are slow to mature, and are often caught before they have a chance to reproduce. Oceana is currently working to protect bluefin tuna from overfishing.


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Could a Shark Live in a Lake?

A lemon shark at Governors River Walk, Palm Beach, FL. [Image via Wikimedia Commons]

Last year’s horror flick, Shark Night 3D, tells the tale of a group of college friends who are attacked by sharks while vacationing near a lake. While the premise of the movies is that evildoers intentionally put sharks in the lake to make money, it made me wonder whether a shark could ever actually make its way inland to a lake.

First of all, the lake would need to be somehow connected to the ocean via a river or other body of water deep and wide enough to accommodate the large animal as it travels upstream. Secondly, most sharks can only tolerate saltwater, or at the very minimum, brackish water, so freshwater rivers and lakes are generally out of the question for species such as great white sharks, tiger sharks, and hammerhead sharks.

Bull sharks are the exception to this rule – they can tolerate brackish and even freshwater conditions because of their advanced ability to osmoregulate, or maintain a constant concentration of water in their bodies despite changing salinity levels in the water. This species is known to travel 60 miles upstream in warm rivers like the Mississippi and the Amazon.

North Carolina’s Neuse River has long been thought to harbor bull sharks, and Duke University graduate student Meagan Dunphy-Daly has proven it by tagging several of them there this summer. On one of her research trips, she encountered a 2.5 meter male bull shark swimming in water with a salinity of only 21 ppt (seawater is usually around 35 ppt). Why would a bull shark journey up the Neuse River? Perhaps in pursuit of the dolphins also swimming there, or maybe because the river provides a good nursery area for their pups.

Other than the bull shark, there are at least five species of “river sharks” in the genus Glyphis which have been observed in freshwater rivers in South and Southeast Asia and Australia, but they are extremely rare due to habitat degradation and little is known about them. These are the only purely freshwater sharks that have been discovered.

So, although it seems unlikely that you will ever encounter a shark in a freshwater lake, you might want to keep an eye out next time you're on a river.


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Shark Fin Soup Minus the Sharks

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Every year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins alone. Shark fins are used to make shark fin soup, a popular and expensive dish that is a symbol of wealth and status primarily in Asian cultures.

The demand for fins can lead to cruel and wasteful practices, such as cutting off a shark’s fins at sea and then throwing the rest of the shark, sometimes still alive, back into the water. And shark fin soup can be dangerous to humans. Since sharks are at the top of the food chain, they accumulate toxins like mercury, which is a dangerous neurotoxin.

So are there any alternatives to shark fin soup? Shark fins themselves have no taste and are used only for texture. In traditional shark fin soup recipes, chicken or fish stock is added to give the soup flavor which means that there are a lot of ways to enjoy shark fin soup without using shark fins – like this recipe from the Monterey Bay Aquarium:


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What’s Scarier Than a Shark? Lots of Things.

This stonefish is far scarier than your average shark.

If you think that sharks are the scariest creatures in the sea, this post may surprise you.

As we've discussed in the past, the majority of shark attacks are caused by only three species (white, tiger, and bull), yet there are more than 500 species that swim the world’s oceans. So next time you’re swimming in the sea, you may want to keep an eye out for these other, seemingly harmless ocean-dwellers as well.

Did you know that there are over 1,200 species of venomous fish on Earth? They vary in the level of harm they can cause to a human who comes into contact with them, but the stonefish is the deadliest of them all. This fish is found in reef habitats in the Indo-Pacific region, and is called a stonefish because it is able to camouflage itself perfectly among the corals, where it lies in wait for an unsuspecting passing fish. Stonefish have 13 venomous spines that, if stepped on by a human, could be deadly.

There are other marine animals besides fish that can be dangerous as well. The sea wasp, also known as the box jellyfish, is one of the most dangerous jellies, and can be found in the Pacific Ocean around Hawaii, the Philippines, and Australia. Their tentacles can grow up to 10 feet long, and each one has about half a million stinging cells!

Sea wasps use their stinging tentacles to paralyze fish prey, but if they make contact with a human, they can cause paralysis and even death in a matter of minutes. Surprisingly, even a dead sea wasp washed up on a beach can be harmful, because their cells are still able to sting. If you are ever stung by a sea wasp, pour vinegar on the affected area to lessen the effects of the venom.

And remember, terrestrial animals can be just as dangerous as marine ones. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and International Shark Attack File reported that between 2003 and 2008, 108 people in the U.S. were killed by cows. That is 27 times higher than the four people killed by sharks during the same period, according to the International Shark Attack File.

This blog post is not meant to scare you from ever going outside again, but rather to draw attention to the fact that there are other potentially dangerous animals in the ocean (and on land), but that sharks always get a bad rap in the media ever since the movie Jaws.

What do you think is scarier than a shark? Tell us in the comments.


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Maryland Introduces Shark Fin Trade Ban

shark fins

Shark fins drying in the sun. © Oceana/LX

The West Coast shark fin trade bans we celebrated last year may be catching on here on the East Coast.

Maryland lawmakers introduced bills Tuesday in both the House and Senate that would outlaw the sale, trade, distribution or possession of shark fins, with violations punishable by fines ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.

As Oceana's Campaign Director Beth Lowell told the Baltimore Sun’s Green blog, there's been no dried shark fin shipped into or out of the port of Baltimore, but U.S. Customs data show exports of shark products, mainly dogfish, exported from Washington and Norfolk.

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.

Shark finning is illegal in the U.S., but fins are imported from countries with weak or nonexistent protections. In recent decades some shark populations have declined by as much as 99%.  

We’ll be keeping a close eye on this legislation and we’ll be sure to keep you posted!


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Marine Monday: Tasseled Wobbegong

tasseled wobbegong

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Some sharks are fearsome predators, all sharp teeth and angular fins. These are the sharks that inspire epic monster movies and give the word “shark” its fearsome connotations.

And then there are sharks that look like a pile of seaweed. The tasseled wobbegong is a flat reef-dwelling shark with leafy tentacles and a name that’s just as ridiculous as its appearance.

But appearances can be deceiving. The tasseled wobbegong settles down on a rock or reef, blending in perfectly with the sand and seaweed. When a tasty fish swims by, the shark comes to life, opening its jaws full of sharp, respectable teeth and snapping the poor swimmer up. Its tasseled face may look rather silly, but this shark is just as efficient a predator as its more fearsome brethren.

Sadly, we don’t know much about the tasseled wobbegong, but we do know that this sneaky hunter is in trouble thanks to overfishing and the destruction of the reefs it depends on.

Oceana is committed to protecting the habitats of tasseled wobbegongs and all the other strange and mysterious creatures of the deep.


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Ocean Victories of 2011: Thank You!

© Oceana/Eduardo Sorensen

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.

As we enter the last weeks of 2011, I’d like to thank you again for your support this year. Even as we continue to face global economic insecurity, your support has made it possible for Oceana to win important victories for the oceans.

Here are just a few of the victories you helped us achieve in 2011:

This is a special year for Oceana, because it’s also our 10th anniversary year. In 2001, our founders decided that the world needed a conservation organization that could win real policy changes for the oceans on an international scale.

Since then, Oceana has expanded to six countries, garnered more than half a million supporters and protected 1.2 million square miles of ocean, including innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and the people who depend upon and enjoy the oceans. Our founders are pleased with the results, and we hope you are as well.

We continue to have ambitious goals, not just for 2012, but the next decade. I hope you’ll continue to join us for the ride. Thank you again.


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Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen on '60 Minutes'

On Sunday "60 Minutes" aired a great piece by Anderson Cooper on one of the most pristine coral reefs in the world, the Gardens of the Queen (or Jardines de la Reina) in Cuba.

Diving in, Cooper is not disappointed – he is surrounded by colorful corals, large sharks and a 200-lb critically endangered goliath grouper.

Oceana’s research vessel, the Ranger, sailed to the Gardens of the Queen in 2008, and documented a wide variety of marine life including sharks and sea turtles.

Check it out:


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