We’ve come a long way since the horror-filled days of the 70s Jaws film that’s promoted widespread fear about, not just great whites, but sharks of any kind. But thanks to new science, advocacy and media tools – conservationists are busting long-standing shark myths and securing much needed protections for some of the world’s most vulnerable shark species like oceanic whitetips, hammerheads and porbeagles.
Unfortunately, Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week frenzy capitalizes on pop-culture and media sensationalism like never before. With titles like “I Escaped Jaws 2”, “Monster Hammerhead” and “Jaws Strikes Back”, this year’s programming is receiving record-setting buzz.
While mass education and media programming about these mysterious and magnificent creatures is a critical component to shark survival, it can be a double-edge sword when it comes to conservation.
Sonja Fordham, Founder and President of Shark Advocates International and leader in the field of shark conservation for nearly two decades, points out, “While there are many troubling aspects of fixating on sharks as threats to people, the upside of Shark Week is the overwhelming, focused attention to these species, and countless opportunities for channeling that fascination toward broader awareness and conservation action.”
During Shark Week, let’s use the power of our online networks to inspire “real” shark fans. Fans that know sharks (and their close relatives) urgently need protections.
Top 5 Facts Real Shark Fans Should Know
- Humans should be the ocean’s caretakers, and yet could actually be considered the real “monsters of the deep”. In too many places, we’re emptying the ocean of sharks. According to the results of a first ever global study of extinction risk conducted by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, 25 percent of the world’s sharks and rays are threatened with extinction.
- Shark Week doesn’t tell the whole story about its most beloved stars: Scalloped Hammerheads are classified by IUCN as Globally Endangered on the Red List, making them among the most threatened of all highly migratory sharks. While not out of the woods, White Sharks are among the world’s most protected sharks. Their closest cousins, however, aren’t faring so well: wide-ranging mako sharks are heavily fished around the world without any international or even EU limits, while porbeagle sharks can still be landed in the US and Canada despite needing many decades to recover from overfishing.
- Fishing, trade, and market controls are lacking. Demand for shark fins is driving the wasteful practice of finning while interest in shark and ray meat is growing in many places. Largely uncontrolled fishing and bycatch is driving many shark and ray populations to the brink of collapse. It’s up to us to use our power as citizens and consumers. Urge your policymakers to promote shark and ray safeguards, and don’t open your wallet to shark and ray products unless you’re sure they’re sustainable.
- Diversity is key. There’s no single silver bullet for shark conservation. Different regions have different issues, resources, and approaches. It requires a strong portfolio of science-based and/or precautionary catch limits, effective shark finning bans, bycatch mitigation, area protections, trade measures, and consumer awareness at all levels – international, regional and local – to safeguard these diverse species. That said, even small steps can help. Pick one and start your own campaign!
- Humans are sharks’ biggest fans. Scuba divers and shark advocates like you are making change. Thanks to support from shark fans, we’ve secured some amazing victories for our underwater friends. But we’re far from done. Join the movement and support shark saving strategies for the future.
Sharks need you. Thanks for being a real shark fan during Shark Week and every week!