Sharks are found world wide, and play an important ecological role, as we have discussed. Even though they are seen as the tough-guys of the ocean, sharks are also particularly vulnerable to overfishing.
Demand remains high for shark products (i.e. fins) and by-catch in other fisheries continues to be a challenge despite some international efforts to more closely regulate the fishing of sharks. As a result, some shark populations continue to struggle. Unlike most other fishes, long-lived sharks grow slowly. They also mature sexually later, and have fewer pups per brood.
Conservation of sharks, and many other fisheries, is a complicated challenge. The United States has been a leader in fisheries management, particularly on the Pacific coast—but sharks and other fish can’t see the boundaries of protected areas. Pelagic animals that travel across huge distances are bound to swim through areas that aren’t regulated, or even if they are regulated, are not well-enforced. With sharks, the question of conservation is further complicated by how mysterious some species continue to be. Making decisions to protect these animals requires more information, and the ongoing research, including tagging and tracking sharks has been revealing interesting discoveries about these ancient creatures.
If you are a SCUBA diver, you can contribute to shark research that may influence how we protect sharks! CLICK HERE to learn more about some citizen science that can put you up close with sharks.
People who love to fish can also help by staying informed! “If you don’t know, let it go**” –click on the quote to download a beautiful shark identification card. **A note on this: just a couple weeks ago, MSI’s aquarist visited Half Moon Bay to collect specimen for our aquarium (with a permit, of course). While he was there he found a leopard shark that had been fished up (with a hook in its mouth) stranded on the rocks! Luckily, he was able to bring it to the water and see that it swam away. If you catch something that you can’t keep, and if it is alive and relatively unharmed, give it a chance and let it go in the water!
For other ideas to help from land, check out Discovery Channel’s top 10 shark conservation projects.