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Oceans: Study highlights threats to sharks and rays

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Majestic manta rays are among the species identified as facing a significant threat. Photo courtesy NOAA.

‘Unless binding commitments to protect these fish are made now, there is a real risk that our grandchildren won’t see sharks and rays in the wild …’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Overfishing is putting about 25 percent of the world’s sharks and rays at risk of extinction, according to ocean experts who took a close look at the global distribution, catch, abundance, population trends, habitat use, life histories, threats and conservation measures.

Previous studies have documented local overfishing of some populations of sharks and rays, but this is the first survey of their status throughout coastal seas and oceans. According to the findings, 249 of 1,041 known shark, ray and chimaera species globally fall under three threatened categories on the IUCN Red List.

“We now know that many species of sharks and rays, not just the charismatic white sharks, face extinction across the ice-free seas of the world,” said Nick Dulvy, a Simon Fraser University Canada Research Chair in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. “There are no real sanctuaries for sharks where they are safe from overfishing,” Dulvy said. Continue reading

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Study: Sharks crucial to coral reef health

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Sharks, apex predators of many ocean ecosystems, play a key role in maintaining coral reef health. Photo courtesy NOAA.

As apex predators, sharks play an important role in regulating ecosystems, including coral reefs

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with the stresses of global warming and pollution, shark fishing may be another important factor in the decline of coral reefs, according to Canadian and Australian scientists.

“Where shark numbers are reduced due to commercial fishing, there is also a decrease in the herbivorous fishes which play a key role in promoting reef health,” said Jonathan Ruppert, a recent University of Toronto PhD graduate. Ruppert was part of a team engaged in long-term monitoring of reefs off Australia’s northwest coast.

Team leader Mark Meekan, of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, said the study suggests that, where shark numbers are reduced, there is a fundamental change in the structure of food chains on reef. Continue reading

Oceans: Study says sharks get a bad rap from media

Sensationalized shark attack stories favored by mass media outlets

A great white shark in California coastal waters. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Sharks have always been seen as the big, bad wolves of the sea, and despite their critical ecological role as apex predators, they’ve been treated especially harshly by the media.

A new study by Michigan State University researchers shows that the mass media — especially in the U.S. and Australia — favor scare stories about shark attacks over coverage of shark-related conservation issues.

Allowing such articles to dominate the overall news coverage diverts attention from key issues, like declining global shark populations and the risk of extinction, said Meredith Gore, MSU assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife and the School of Criminal Justice. Continue reading

Are great white sharks an endangered species?

Great white sharks may get protection under the Endangered Species Act. Photo courtesy EPA.

Conservation groups petition to protect West Coast populations

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Recent studies suggest that populations of great white sharks off the West Coast of the U.S. have dwindled well  below previous estimates, leading conservation groups to call for Endangered Species Act protection for the apex predator of the ocean.

In a formal petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service, a trio of environmental groups outlined threats to the sharks, including high mortality from gillnets used to catch other fish. The petition is based on 2011 studies suggesting that adult and sub-adult great white sharks may number as few as 350  — far fewer than researchers expected, presenting an inherently high extinction risk. Continue reading

Not your average shark bite …

Most swimmers not at risk from these deep sea predators

A public domain NOAA image shows the size of a cookiecutter shark in relationship to a pencil.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Not all shark attacks are perpetrated by Jaws-size predators, according to University of Florida researchers who recently outlined details of the first known cookiecutter shark attack on a live human in the July edition of Pacific Science.

The study warns that swimmers entering the cookiecutter’s range of open ocean tropical waters may be considered prey for the shark, which specializes in taking bite-size chunks of flesh from its victims.

The sharks feed near the surface at night, meaning daytime swimmers are less likely to encounter them. The species is small, with adults reaching about 2 feet, but their unique jaws specialize in scooping out a piece of flesh like a melon ball, leaving victims with a crater-like wound. Continue reading

Sea Shepherd activists to safeguard shark sanctuary

A sand tiger shark. PHOTO COURTESY PAULA WHITFIELD, NOAA.

Conservation group teams up with Palau to stop illegal poaching in coastal waters

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After waging a fierce direct action campaign against Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean for the past seven years, the Sea Sheperd Conservation Society is taking aim at a new target — poachers who are illegally killing sharks in the Palau Shark Sanctuary.

The conservation group’s battle against the Japanese whaling fleet was depicted in Whale Wars, a  high seas docudrama broadcast on the Animal Planet television channel.

Sea Shepherd’s new mission of guarding Palau’s shark sanctuary is formalized in a memorandum of understanding between the group and Palau’s Division of Marine Law Enforcement.

Under the agreement, Sea Shepherd will send a vessel to patrol Palau’s territorial waters against illegal fishing activity and assist marine law enforcement officers and facilitate prosecution of offenders to the fullest extent of the law. The relationship between Sea Shepherd and Palau is defined as a “partnership in the preservation of marine life.” Continue reading

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