Do we need to care about sharks?

Recently, the number of campaigns for shark conservation is increasing. Is it necessary to conserve sharks? Many believe that shark populations are not threatened and do not need any specific concerns. However, there are four reasons why we should care about and protect these aggressive wild fish.

It has been claimed elsewhere that sharks, in general, are among the most fierce and cruel creatures in marine ecosystems. They often attack people who either swim or surf. They can kill human with their sharp teeth and aggressive fatal bites. The public have misleading perceptions about sharks’ brutality since many movies show how cruel and brutal the sharks are to humans. However, most shark species are relatively not dangerous to humans. For example, carpet sharks, walking sharks, and whale sharks are very gentle. These sharks are also not harmful to humans as they do not feel disturbed by the presence of divers and snorkelers. In addition, only few species like bull sharks and tiger sharks are associated in shark attacks on humans. Most shark attacks on humans are exploratory because sharks make a first bite to a prey for testing whether it is their prey or not. Apart from this, those attacks are unprovoked ones as they are not driven by shark’s feeding behaviour. Sharks naturally need a large amount of high-fat meat that is not provided by humans. Moreover, some sharks often mistake the people who either swim or surf for the shape of their prey like seals.

An attractive show by three wild black tip reef sharks in Raja Ampat. This shark species is not aggressive to humans.

It could be argued that sharks thrive well in marine ecosystems. They can eat any prey they want as they are predators. In addition, they can easily find their prey since the number of prey population at lower trophic levels is abundant. Many species, however, are included in the IUCN Red List as endangered species. For example, lemon sharks have only a very slow reproductive cycle as they reach sexual maturity at age around 12-16 years. Most sharks only produce a small number of pups, so they have a very low reproductive rate. Apart from this, shark populations are dramatically decreasing globally as millions of sharks are hunted and killed atrociously for their fins through shark finning practices. Shark fins which served as soup for special Chinese delicacies at many restaurants in Asian countries symbolise wealth and power to people who eat this soup.

It could be further argued that losing sharks is not a serious problem for the sustainability of marine ecosystems. They are everywhere like other fish and do not have any specific role in ocean. However, sharks are ecologically important to other marine life. They prevent the spread of diseases on fish they eat to other marine life by naturally eating only sick and dying fish. For this reason, they are needed to maintain healthy marine ecosystems. Moreover, they control the number of fish in a population at each trophic level to keep the fish populations in proper proportion. Sharks eat only the weakest and oldest fish in the populations. As a result, they contribute to strengthen the gene pools of fish populations. Apart from this, they let the healthy fish thrive in marine ecosystems. In other words, healthy members of fish populations will reproduce a large number of healthier fish.

A carpet shark, tasselled wobbegong (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon), is sitting on coral reef

Who wants to put their lives in danger by having unintended direct interaction with sharks? This is a dangerous and meaningless activity. Having deliberate interaction with sharks through ecotourism, however, is more valuable than finning the sharks. For example, diving and snorkeling with the apex predators provide an unforgettable experience as they challenge bravery. In addition, shark ecotourism prevents shark fishing and promotes better understanding of sharks to the public. Consequently, it contributes to the long-term protection of shark populations. Unsurprisingly, protecting sharks will also generate a larger number of sharks in marine ecosystems. Apart from this, shark ecotourism is economically more valuable than shark finning practices. In Palau, this accounts for only around USD 10,000 per year, while it generates more than USD 2.5 million dollars per year since many tourists are prepared to pay a large amount of money to watch and interact directly with live sharks in their natural habitat.

In conclusion, it is obviously necessary to conserve sharks in their natural habitat. These endangered species which are relatively not dangerous to humans occupy an extremely effective and important ecological function in marine ecosystems and generate considerable economic benefit through shark ecotourism. Shark conservation will be massively implemented in all marine ecosystems to maintain and recover healthy environments and provide better alternative livelihoods for coastal communities.