Sharks: Predator or Prey?

Ella Garbarsky

 

The word “shark” alone is enough to startle anyone who hears it. The stereotype of sharks is that they are bloodthirsty monsters. Many hold the flawed perspective that every time we set foot into the ocean, a shark is going to eat us. The truth? Sharks are one of the most misunderstood animals in the ocean--maybe even on the planet. The only thing scarier than seeing a shark in the ocean, is not seeing one at all. 

 

Sharks are at the top of the food chain. Sharks are responsible for keeping the ecosystems and the populations throughout the ocean in check. When the sharks start to disappear, so do the ecosystems and coral reefs. The food chain starts to become unbalanced and certain populations will rise while others decline. Vegetation and bacteria will start to spread and before you know it, what was once a beautiful coral reef filled with fish, corals, crustaceans, and so much more has now become a graveyard home to bleached coral and bones. 

 

Sharks are on the verge of extinction as humans are killing sharks much faster than they can reproduce. Sharks take longer to reproduce than other fish, and when they do, they only have a few pups. This poses a huge threat to the livelihood of sharks. We need sharks to survive or else our oceans (and humans) could be facing extreme consequences. 

 

One of the main threats sharks are facing today is shark fin soup and overfishing. Shark fin soup is an Asian delicacy that has created a catastrophic problem for the shark population. Sharks are caught and stripped of their fins and then are thrown back into the ocean where they face an awful, slow death. Studies have suggested that about 100 million sharks are killed per year, mainly for their fins. The demand for shark fin soup is increasing while the shark population is barely clinging on as it is. 

 

As if shark fin soup was not killing enough sharks, overfishing adds significantly to the toll. Sharks are being caught for their meat and fins at an astronomical rate. Sharks also can get tangled in extra fishing wire and nets. They can become victims of “bycatch” when fishermen are attempting to catch other species of fish and accidentally catch sharks instead. 

 

Sharks need to be saved and there are many things we can do to help them. But first, here are a few things that are more likely to kill you than a shark: Fireworks, lightning, a ladder, a lawnmower, a tornado, sun/heat exposure, coconuts, mosquitoes, cows, and even hot dogs.

For instance, studies show that the average person is 15 times more likely to be killed by a  falling coconut than a shark. And, let’s be honest, who’s scared of coconuts? It is very rare to be killed by any of the things listed above, and when put into perspective, it is clear that it is exceedingly rare to be attacked let alone killed by a shark.  

 

We can help sharks survive by not eating shark meat, liver oil, or cartilage. We can also inform other people and our communities about the issues sharks are facing today and why it is so important to take action. Use cosmetics that do not include shark products of any kind. Finally, you could donate to shark conservation groups. 

 

Sharks are a vital part of our Earth’s oceans and if they disappear, it could be catastrophic not just for aquatic ecosystems, but for humans too. Humans kill about 11,416 sharks per hour amounting to around 100 million sharks per year…and approximately only six humans are killed by sharks each year. Let that sink in. Are sharks really the predator? Or are we?