All shark species are being threatened by people. On average 100 million sharks are killed every year. That’s 3.7 sharks killed by people per second. About 70% of these sharks are killed for shark fin soup, while the other 30% are killed as a byproduct of commercial fishing or fear. Shark species cannot recover from the rate they are being killed. Sharks have slow reproduction with long gestation periods, which means they cannot replace the killed members of their species fast enough to reduce declining numbers. So if we keep going at this rate, sharks will quickly disappear from the planet. So what happens if every shark on Earth were to disappear today?
Sharks are painted as terrifying predators on our society, that would hunt and harm humans. However, the statistics tell a different story. Sharks only kill about 4-5 people every year and most of the 179 non-fatal shark attacks were provoked by humans. Sharks, though apex predators of the sea, have no interest in humans. Most of the time, they only bite when they feel their lives are threatened by human encroachment into their territory or when they mistake people for marine prey like turtles or sea lions. So targeting sharks is really the product of misinformation and fear.
Sharks As A Food Source
Most sharks are killed for their meat. Mostly commonly sharks are killed solely for shark fin soup and the rest of the shark is cast away. Shark fin soup is an expensive delicacy, so it is highly sought after by commercial fisherman because of the huge profits. In fact, shark finning is the #2 black market industry after illegal drugs. However, because sharks are so large, they are full of mercury, so it is actually dangerous to eat shark meat. Shark fin does not even have a taste and only adds texture to the soup. Plus shark fin soup is incredibly wasteful and not worth the millions of deaths a year caused by fishing activities. Shark fin soup is mostly consumed in Asian countries where shark fin soup is considered a symbol of status, especially during wedding receptions.
Apex Predators Are Crucial For The Health Of The Food Chain
Sharks, like all apex predators, play a crucial role in the balance of the food chain. There are several ways sharks preserve the balance of the food chain:
- Sharks tend to prey on sick, injured, or weak fish. The removal of these fish help keep the whole school strong and plentiful.
- Sharks consume larger fish which consume smaller fish which consume algae. So if sharks are killed, then algae blooms will grow out of control and suffocate marine life.
- Sharks’ regulation of algae blooms also helps coral reefs thrive. Coral competes directly with algae, so without sharks, coral reefs would disappear.
- Sharks also consume marine animals that eat seagrass, kelp, and other vital sea plants. These plants will be over-consumed, leading to the loss of habitat for many other animals.
- Sharks also consume marine animals who consume other forms of smaller prey. If these animals are not eaten, they will consume too much smaller prey, leading to declining numbers in both species.
- Sharks are in direct competition with other ocean predators like killer whales, orcas, dolphins, and sea lions. Without the competition with sharks in many areas these animals would overpopulate, causing too much competition and a decline in the species. These animals would also overeat, also causing a decline in the species.
Sharks are vital for protecting a balanced food chain in the ocean.
So if they were to completely disappear today the whole ocean would be thrown out of balance to disastrous effects.
Economic Costs Of Losing Sharks
Losing sharks would have a huge economic cost to people. The food chain imbalance caused by the loss of sharks would be detrimental to commercial fisheries. Many of our favorite seafoods would disappear completely and what was left would be sick and dangerous to eat. The global fishing industry accounts for an estimated $246 billion dollars and employs 200 million people. The economic consequences of an oceanic food chain collapse would be devastating to the world economy. Not to mention how many people rely on seafood as their primary source of nutrition.
Loss Of Tourist Revenue
Sharks also bring in a lot of tourist revenue that would be lost. There are very few animals that provoke the same fascination as sharks. People travel all over the world to get a chance to glimpse these magnificent creatures. Others pay thousands to swim up close with sharks. In places like Palau or Belize, where shark tourism is a vital piece of their economy, these countries would lose millions in annual revenue if all sharks just disappeared.
Sharks have been around for 450 million years, they are older than even dinosaurs. They have been a vital part of the ocean biome for so long that if they were to disappear we don’t even know all the consequences. Though what we do know is enough to ensure that shark conservation is an important effort and we need to work to protect sharks from human activity so that the ocean isn’t thrown out of balance.
Luckily for us, sharks will not disappear today. However their declining numbers mean they could disappear in the near future and that would have devastating consequences. So it is important you learn as much as you can about these amazing animals get involved in conservation efforts to protect all shark species before it is too late!