Sharks are one of our planet's most misunderstood and maligned creatures, and the pressure from human activities on shark populations has been pushing some species of these fish toward extinction. An estimated one-third of shark species is under threat of extinction, millions of sharks are killed every year just for their fins, and many others are killed as 'bycatch' while fishing for other species.
Changing the public's (and governments') perceptions of sharks from the myth that they are just bloodthirsty killers of the ocean (thanks, Jaws) to seeing them as an integral part of marine ecology has been a long process, and we're not there yet. But as a result of the efforts of some very passionate conservationists, there are a number of ways that shark populations are being helped, both in the water and in the halls of government. Here are seven of them, and you can lend a hand with some of them:
Although there are not any international catch limits for sharks, some countries are setting the agenda for shark conservation through their own legislation. In the U.S., the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, which was signed into law in January of 2011, makes it illegal to remove any of the fins or tail of a shark at sea, to be in possession of shark fins which are not attached to the body, or to receive from or transfer the fins to any other vessel at sea.
2. Education:Big media events such as Shark Week help educate the public about sharks and their mysterious lives under the ocean, but there are plenty of other opportunities for shark conservation education. Groups such as the Shark Alliance, Oceana, Shark Angels, Shark Stewards, and Ocean Conservancy try to take a bite out of the mythos of the shark, and offer plenty of resources to both educate ourselves and to take action for endangered shark species. And some aquariums are even offering first-hand shark experiences to give people a shark's eye view of these amazing creatures.
3. Activism:Actively boycotting shark products in any form (including the infamous shark fin soup, shark meat,some cosmetics, etc,), as well as the companies and countries guilty of supporting the overharvesting and consumption of sharks is one personal way to take action. More directly, engaging in letter writing and advocacy campaigns in support of strong legislation and clear guidelines on both the local and national level with regard to sharks can make an impact. There are quite a few shark conservation campaigns that we can actively support, including this one for the great white sharks.
4. Documentation:Conservationists and filmmakers have been trying to change the public's perception of sharks with films such as Sharkwater and the incredibly popular Shark Week programs.
5. Connection:Networking with other shark conservationists and activists all over the world, thanks to the magic of the internet, has proven beneficial in both education and activism, as groups can coordinate their efforts to have a bigger impact on industry, policy, and the public. There are active discussions about sharks all over Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and reddit, just waiting for you to join in.
6. Selection:Using seafood guides to buy and consume only shark-friendly and non-threatened fish. For smartphone users, Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch app is a good choice, or if you'd prefer a hard copy, you can put a pocket guide in your wallet for reference at the store and restaurant.
7. Protection:Countries which have made efforts to ban commercial fishing in their waters in a bid toward creating marine sanctuaries, such as the islands of Palau and the Maldives, have managed to protect thousands of square miles of important coastal shark habitat.
There are over 400 different species of sharks on our planet, and they need our help if they are going to survive and thrive in our oceans. Please take a minute to take action on any of the above items for shark conservation today, and leave a comment if you've got other examples of effective ways to help sharks.