How Do Sharks Die? No. 1 Reason Can Be Stopped

We all see sharks as these powerful super animals that have no enemies and are on top of the food chain. But of course all beings must die and so do sharks.

How do sharks die? Sharks die, of course, of natural causes, but nowadays they mostly die because of direct human activity against them or other marine life. It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed by people every year, due to commercial and recreational fishing – roughly 11,000 sharks every hour, around the clock.

Believe it or not, sharks have been in the oceans for about 450 million years – well before dinosaurs even arrived on the scene, and they’ve survived four of the five big extinction events! Will they survive human kind?

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Natural Causes

Contrary to popular belief, sharks die from many natural causes, the same as almost any other animal or human being. Some shark species can live to be more than 100 years old or even more than 200 years in the case of the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus)!

A popular myth is that sharks are immune to disease and cancer, but this is not scientifically supported. Sharks do get sick and can even get cancer. They are also attacked by parasites and different diseases.

The worst thing for an animal is to be tasty or have some other use or health benefit (even anecdotal) for humans. And so we come to finning.

Finning

Another one of human practices that just boggle my mind is finning. If you want to talk about irresponsible, wasteful and selfish human behavior, finning is arguably on top of the list.

Sentencing an animal to die for a small piece of their body is just appalling. So, what is so special about shark fins anyway that so many people are ready to pay more than $200 for a bowl of shark fin soup?

The answer is nothing! That’s right. It is just a piece of shark cartilage. In fact, the irony is that scientific research has revealed high concentrations of BMAA (a neurotoxin) are present in shark fins. BMAA is under study for its pathological role in neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Considering shark fin soup is a status symbol in Asian countries and is considered healthy and full of nutrients makes this the ultimate irony.

What is shark finning?

Shark finning involves removing the fin with a hot metal blade. Fishermen capture live sharks, fin them, and dump the finless animal back into the water sentencing it to death because it can’t swim and it soon dies from suffocation or predators.

Shark finning yields are estimated at 1.41 million tons for 2010 which is about 97 million sharks.

Bycatch

Sharks often die as a result of getting caught as bycatch. In fact, a study found that fishing was the greatest cause of death for juvenile great white sharks off the western coasts of Southern California and Mexico.

What is bycatch? Bycatch (or by-catch) is a fish or other marine animal that is caught unintentionally while catching certain target species and target sizes of fish, crabs, etc. Bycatch is either of a different species, the wrong sex, or is undersized or juvenile.

If a fishing boat catches shark while fishing for tuna, the shark is considered to be bycatch.

The highest rates of bycatch are associated with tropical shrimp trawling. Shrimp trawl fisheries catch 2% of the world total catch of all fish by weight, but produce more than shocking one-third of the world total bycatch.

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Shark Culling

There are past and existing shark culling programs around the world and most notably in Australia and South Africa. They are designed to decrease the population of sharks and also arguably to protect swimmers.

The cullings are usually performed by using an unmanned aquatic trap used to lure and capture large sharks using baited hooks called drum lines. But governments also use traditional methods like nets.

For an example of the number of sharks being killed this way, Kwazulu-Natal, an area of South Africa, has a shark-killing program that uses nets and drum lines which have killed more than 33,000 sharks during a 30-year period, and also 2,211 turtles, 8,448 rays, and 2,310 dolphins.

Recreational Shark Fishing

Recreational shark fishing is more widespread than you think. It was virtually unknown before 1975 and the release of the movie Jaws. After the movie premiered, every Tom, Dick & Harry wanted to prove their manliness by catching and killing a man-eater.

Another reason it gained popularity is that you don’t need a boat to fish for sharks. If you have a large rod and reel, you too can set it up on a dock, bridge, or even on the beach and have a good chance at catching a shark.

Of course, many people think that by killing sharks they are actually helping to keep swimmers safe. This can be ensured by many other methods that do not involve killing animals that were around even before dinosaurs were walking the Earth.

How To Stop Human Exploitation Of Sharks & Finning

I am certainly no fan of sharks but I do appreciate these magnificent marine animals and I do not see any sense or need in practices that are trying and succeeding in exploiting sharks or indeed any other animals.

In theory, it’s “easy” to stop the extermination of sharks. Simply ban finning and longline fishing and enforce the ban. There will always be a black market for shark fins because the prices would skyrocket but the number of dead sharks would drop drastically.

Longline fishing – when workers on the boats spool out hundreds of feet of fishing line with up to 2,000 baited hooks spread along its length.

Related Questions

Do sharks get cancer? Contrary to popular belief, sharks do get cancer and scientists have known that for some time now. Unfortunately they are still getting killed en masse because of their supposed cancer beating abilities and their “health benefits”.

Why are sharks important anyway? Sharks are on top of the ocean food chain and they help regulate healthy fish populations and are a sort of ocean’s immune system.

Why do sharks have fins? Most sharks have eight fins that are made of cartilage as is the rest of their skeleton. Their large dorsal fin provides them balance and they have a smaller dorsal fin further back towards their tail. They propel themselves with their caudal fin (tail) and steer with pectoral fins.

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