Extinction with minimum chips - episode 4

3 Feb 2011 0 Share

Jock Serong

Senior Writer



Of all the living things on our planet, sharks occupy a unique role, embodying the darkness in our hearts, evoking everything that spooks us about the deep.

But the relationship is more complex than eating and being eaten. Sharks inspire all manner of ritual and symbolism, strains of belief and superstition that persist throughout human history. Their sleek lines are a metaphor for anything fast and predatory: moneylenders and lawyers especially. They are the men in grey suits. They are Jaws the hideous, and Bruce the loveable. We’ve professed to loath them, but we’re addicted to the idea of them. They are as much a part of our history as we are. And they’re disappearing.

Jock Serong explores the problems facing sharks, possible solutions, and why we should care…


On top of all the threats discussed in previous episodes, sharks suffer from loss of habitat. The loss of marine habitat is less apparent to the eye than that of land habitat, but it’s a creeping catastrophe.

Apex predators like white sharks help keep populations of their prey in check.

Apex predators like white sharks help keep populations of their prey in check.

Shallow estuaries are nurseries and pupping grounds for sharks, in some places filling up during summer with slow-moving pregnant females. The same waters are also in heavy demand for recreational boating, industry and even housing. As boring as it sounds, managing this part of the problem is nothing more or less than a planning issue.

Apex predators
Declining shark numbers can have serious consequences for ocean ecosystems. Sharks are a vital part of the food chain; their predatory nature helps to keep populations of their prey species in check.

Without sharks to help maintain a healthy balance, marine environments are at great risk of permanent damage.

The CSIRO’s Russ Bradford puts it in these terms: “The removal of the top predators affects the balance within the community. A good example is the sea otter. Large scale depletion of sea otters in American waters resulted in a boom in urchin populations. These urchin populations then depleted the algal/kelp beds resulting in ‘urchin barrens’. Just try to think of what would happen if humans were removed from the earth (or even a part of it). The entire balance of the ecosystem would change. Is this bad or good?”

So what are we to do?
Finning, food, hatred, entertainment...the reasons we kill sharks are as diverse as sharks themselves. Sometimes we kill them for nothing more than a photo. But they can’t keep up with our casual slaughter: they’ve evolved to an ancient timetable that plays out reproduction in ponderous slow motion.

Hammerheads are one species under high fishing pressure. Though data is inconclusive, research suggests  populations may be as low as 10-25% of their original numbers.

Hammerheads are one species under high fishing pressure. Though data is inconclusive, research suggests populations may be as low as 10-25% of their original numbers.

One change of thinking, one change of laws won’t do it, because the problem is a many-headed hydra. Only a wholesale shift in our attitude to sharks - one that puts them in a privileged grouping with dolphins, whales, pandas and rhinos – will save them now. And there is no sign of such a shift.

Google this article in fifty years time, and it’s more than likely that the creatures discussed here will have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

What can you do?



The writer would like to thank Ingrid Neilson at the Australian Marine Conservation Society and Kent "Black" Stannard at WhiteTag for their generous help in researching this article. You can check out their very informative websites at www.amcs.org.au and www.whitetag.com.au


Got a good shark story? Got an opinion about sharing the surf with them? Let us know....

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Tags: wildlife , shark , protection , fishing (create Alert from these tags)

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