If there’s anything we divers should know, it’s the importance of balance in our oceans. Too many of us have seen the very real consequences of an unbalanced ecosystem, whether it’s a proliferation of jellyfish, coral bleaching, or an invasive species taking over a reef. Research has proven repeatedly what an integral role sharks play in cultivating healthy ecosystems, yet the battle rages on about who’s really at the top of the food chain. With an estimated 74 million sharks being killed annually, here are 5 species that you may want to get to know before they’re gone.
Whale Shark – Vulnerable
This gentle giant is the exact antithesis of the bloodthirsty sharks of lore, due to the fact that it feeds entirely on plankton. Whale sharks are very curious and not at all afraid of humans, which sadly may be their downfall in the end. Despite international protections on these animals, whale sharks are still falling into the hands of finners, and their massive bulk ends up as bycatch in a sea of fishing nets. The one thing whale sharks have going for them that many sharks don’t is their ability to give birth to up to 300 pups at a time, rather than just a few over a lifetime. However, research indicates that less than 10 percent of these survive into adulthood, emphasizing the need to protect this magnificent species.
Basking Shark – Vulnerable/Endangered
Much like the whale shark, the basking shark is another filter-feeding behemoth that causes harm to absolutely no one, save for the tons of plankton it ingests every day. They have long been an important marine resource for their fins, shark liver oil, and animal feed that is processed from their massive bodies. However, they have been overfished to the point of being endangered in some areas, like the northeast Atlantic, and have gone functionally extinct in others. The basking shark is currently one of the most widely protected species in the ocean.
Great White Shark – Threatened
Great white sharks get a terrible rap when it comes to human encounters, which has led to centuries of shark hunting that has left us with dwindling populations, the effects of which are already visible in our oceans. Great whites have long symbolized great strength and supremacy, which makes them a valuable catch for sportfishermen, as well as those who believe they can take on the power of the great white shark by ingesting it. Today, fatalities from shark attacks are still relatively low: roughly 60 per year. Great white sharks are assigned much of the blame.
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark – Endangered
The scalloped hammerhead shark is a majestic creature, with an acute sensory capacity located within its peculiarly-shaped head. It is an efficient predator, with specific tastes that help to manage the species within an ecosystem to keep it healthy. Unfortunately, the scalloped hammerhead’s fins are highly prized for shark fin soup, and the demand for this species has resulted in a 75 percent decline in their populations over the last 15 years along the east coast of the US. Fisheries in the region most certainly noticed, as increased populations of stingrays, one of the major food sources of the scalloped hammerhead, obliterated and shuttered a century-old thriving scallop fishery.
Angel Shark – Critically Endangered
Once an important deepwater predator, the angel shark population is diminished so much today that sightings of these animals are rare indeed, and not just because of their effective camouflage. Bottom trawling and longline fishing have brutally slashed the angel shark’s numbers by destroying its habitat and leaving no survivors. It has been so depleted that it is functionally extinct in the North Sea and nearly in the Mediterranean, and is becoming increasingly uncommon in the Atlantic.
Has anyone seen all 5 of these sharks?