Shark schmark – why should we care?
Why is it that a picture of a cute and cuddly kiwi or a doe-eyed dolphin gets a response, yet animals pre-dating our most ancient of species – the tuatara – get completely ignored?
Sharks are the living dinosaurs of our seas. Originating long before dinosaurs arrived, sharks are among our top predators and act as key regulators of life in our seas. They are incredibly shy and have developed as slow growing species, living long lives and producing few young – all traits that make them highly vulnerable to overfishing and habitat loss.
The practice of shark finning – removing the highly priced fins and discarding the rest of the body at sea – has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. It is now estimated that over 100 million sharks are killed annually worldwide and that shark populations globally are in decline.
While many countries have banned the practice of shark finning, New Zealand has not – choosing only to prohibit ‘live’ finning on the basis it is cruel. And it is! It’s very cruel. Yet despite the ban, online video footage and ongoing anecdotal reports prove that live finning of New Zealand sharks is alive and healthy.
A total of 112 species of shark have been recorded in New Zealand waters, 70 of which are caught in our fisheries and only one of which is protected – the great white shark. It is ironic really that it is the great white or white pointer that centred in possibly the most devastating film ever made about sharks. “Jaws” and its sequels have had a disastrous effect on shark conservation efforts, altering public perception of these shy and highly vulnerable species to one of blood-thirsty human-eating monsters.
Why is it we are happy to leave sharks to the hands of butchers – and support them in doing so?