Are Sharks Misunderstood? Making a Case for the Ocean’s Most Formidable Fish
It seems that everyone’s anticipating the 30th iteration of the annual Shark Week on Discovery Channel. Everybody, that is, except for the scientists from Spanish conservation group Alnitak, who don’t have to wait for Shark Week to get their dose of excitement.
They saw what nobody has seen in over four decades: a great white shark swimming in the warm Mediterranean waters off the coast of Mallorca. Not only have they spotted the endangered fish but also tracked it for nearly 70 minutes while taking footage.
The 16ft long specimen of Carcharodon Carcharias, or the great white shark, came within 10ft of the scientists’ vessel and swam leisurely alongside while the researchers documented the unusual encounter.
“What a beautiful sight! Sharks are essential parts of a healthy ocean ecosystem,” commented one of the scientists. Their expedition gathers data on the effects of microplastics’ pollution on sea life in the area, and they were not expecting to see a great white shark.
The last sighting in the area was in 1976 and since then only the smaller blue shark has been frequently seen in Mallorca and the surrounding islands. The great whites are usually spotted off the coast of South Africa or Australia, but they are in fact native to the Mediterranean.
While tabloids still love to use sharks as clickbait, they fail to report that it is no longer humans that should fear the predatory fish but the other way round. Although the biggest of all shark species, the great white shark, sports 300 sharp teeth and can weigh up to 7,000 pounds, it is facing the risk of extinction. It often falls prey to overfishing, getting trapped in nets and rarely surviving the trauma.
Even though in many countries, including the United States, finning is illegal, shark fins are still considered a delicacy, especially in China. Great white sharks are too solitary and rare to be threatened by the fin trade, but their smaller blue cousins are a common victim.
Scientists also warn that many species of sharks that are pursued for sport are very timid and even the stress of “catch and release” can easily kill them.
Despite their vulnerability, sharks play a very important role in ecosystems around the world as they are usually at the top of the food chain. Their sophisticated hunting methods target old or sick prey and in turn, keep their population healthy. Even more important than what they eat is how their hunting affects the behavior of other species. For example, by scaring off grazers, sharks increase the resilience of endangered coral reefs.
This Shark Week, consider supporting shark conservation by making a small donation to one of the numerous shark charities.