A couple of months ago, a visiting veterinarian arrived at our shop early one morning in distress. She had been for a run on the beach and was shocked to find the butchered remains of a smooth hound shark. The head was connected to the tail by a thin strip of skin along the dorsal ridge. This was not a natural fatality, but the result of efforts of a shark long-liner to decimate the shark population of Plettenberg Bay.
Few creatures elicit as varied reactions among humans, as do sharks. With so little known about them, we have come to imagine all sorts of horrendous ends that could become us if we were to chance upon a shark in the ocean. The media has played its part too in promoting this thinking, often portraying them as mindless killers, cruising the depths looking to sever limbs and wreak bloodshed wherever they go. While it is true that sharks are supremely well-equipped predators, many misconceptions have lead to humans adopting a negative approach to sharks, such that to this day there are still those who think that the only good shark, is a dead shark.
Annually it is estimated that between 100 and 275 million sharks are slaughtered annually. The bulk of these are caught in an illicit trade targeting sharks for their fins, to supply the growing demand in the Far East for shark fin soup. That means that on a daily basis, up to 0.75 million sharks are losing their lives, being hauled out of the ocean to have their fins hacked off and the remaining live animal thrown back to drown in the ocean depths.
Sharks, however, are vital to maintaining the health and abundance of life in the ocean. As apex predators, it is their role to eliminate the sick and the weak from their prey populations, thereby helping to promote healthy stock in these species. At the present rate of decline, it is unlikely that sharks as an entire species will survive the rest of the century, with many species already considered to have surpassed the tipping point from which species recovery is impossible. Do whatever you can to create awareness about this unfolding tragedy. And be kind to sharks. You need them more than you realise.
Written by: Steve Bebington