Rain of shark

As a postscript to our previous shark post, I’d like to mention the work of a group of researchers from Michigan State University who studied media coverage of sharks. The article, which appeared in Conservation Biology, found that more than 52% of media articles focused on shark attacks on humans, while less than 10% focused on conservation, making the shark out to be a villain rather than a victim. That’s bad news for a creature that’s already at risk from overfishing, bycatch, habitat loss, and climate change.

And in other shark news, golfers on a course in southern California had to contend with a small leopard shark dropping from the sky. The shark was apparently picked up by a bird (probably a fairly sizeable bird, since the shark was two feet long) but dropped along the way. Fortunately for the shark, the course marshal managed to get it into water and drive it back to the ocean, where it was released and swam away.

So in addition to all the risks above, sharks have to deal with predatory birds and golfers. It’s a shark’s life.

Leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata). Photo by Tewy, licensed under GNU FDL.

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9 Responses to Rain of shark

  1. Not surprising, that split of stats. Did recently read one shark-related story that was about humans and sharks (without the blood and gore): http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/bull-sharks-on-collision-course-with-humans-20121124-2a00h.html. Plenty of work to be done.

  2. Alison Jobling says:

    Thanks for that link, Matt – it’s a fine illustration of how humans drive creatures out of their natural habitats.

    The stats breakdown is not encouraging, though. Many apex predators are endangered, largely because their numbers are quite small to begin with (it takes a lot of small fish to feed one big fish), and because any disturbance in the food chain affects them.

    And sharks are the creatures people love to hate: they’re large and toothy and completely alien to humans, and their attacks occur when people are relaxing in the water. So it will take a lot of work to convince the general public that they have an important place in the ecosystem, and a right to be there.

    • Smut Clyde says:

      Not to mention the anger directed at apex predators by human beings who think that if the ocean is running out of fish, it’s because those sharks / seals / dolphins are eating them all, and not because we are strip-mining the sea — so the fish will come back if we just exterminate enough of the competition.

      • Alison Jobling says:

        Hi Smut,

        Yes, humans do have an unattractive tendency to find a scapegoat (or in this case a scape-shark) to carry the blame. We see this everywhere, whether it’s the environment or the economy: “it’s not our fault, it’s somebody/something else that wrecked things”.

        Also, there’s little acceptance of the indisputable fact that ocean ecosystems got on fine without us for millennia, even with the sharks/seals/dolphins eating fish with knife, fork, and spoon. When there’s only one variable that’s changed, namely our increasing haul of marine life, it’s hard to argue that it’s the dolphins’ fault. Strip-mining is a very good analogy: it’s ruthless and doesn’t leave anything behind.

        I think people still have a highly unrealistic view of the natural world – because it’s bigger than we can individually see, lots of people think it’s infinite. And to me that’s the greatest threat: that we can do what we like because, well, “there’s plenty more fish in the sea”.

  3. I’m a BIG BIG BIG shark fan and have done numerous research papers on the decline of shark populations and its effects on the environment. I’m currently working on one that compares the conservation efforts that the US and Canada put forth internationally versus their domestic efforts. I must say, what I have found is pretty disappointing.

    • Alison Jobling says:

      Disappointing is a fairly mild word, I think: horrifying would be closer to the mark. Sharks are pretty impressive creatures, and do a lot of vital things, and it would be catastrophic if humans, out of their own short-sightedness and greed, harried them to extinction.

      When you put that paper out, let me know, and I’ll do a post on it: I’m always interested in conservation in general and sharks in particular, and I’m betting that there will be a striking disparity between what they want others to do and what they’re willing to do themselves.

  4. Pingback: Time for some shark love | Biodiversity Revolution

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