Shark Awareness Day

July 14, 2020Lu Shegay

Shark Awareness Day has been created to celebrate internationally every year to highlight the importance of sharks in our lives and the entire ecosystem.

Sharks are one of the oldest species in the marine environment, they arouse approximately 400 million years ago. For that period of time, these animals have faced both mass extinction and rapid population growth. Unfortunately, because of movies, cartoons, and books, sharks have always been displayed as "evil" or dangerous animals, while in reality, only a few species of sharks can be considered dangerous to humans, and sharks generally do not attack.

Sharks are the apex predators in the marine environment and they maintain and keep our oceans healthy. Being at the top of the food chain, it is important to protect and conserve the population of sharks because their disappearance can affect other species of aquatic animals. For instance, taking sharks out of the coral reef habitat can lead to the growth of the larger predatory marine species and feed on the herbivores, whereas less number of herbivores influences the expansion of macroalgae and the inability for corals to compete because the ecosystem shifts to one of algae dominance, and it affects the reef habitats.

Read more: Predators as Prey. Why Healthy Oceans Need Sharks

"White and Black Fish in Water" by Elgin Renz Rocili from Pexels

Approximately 100 million sharks are killed annually, tens of millions of them are killed for food consumption. The IUCN Red List includes critically endangered species, endangered species, vulnerable species, near-threatened species, least concern species, and data deficient species of sharks. In 2019, professor Nicholas Dulvy, Sharks Specialist Group Co-Chair based at Simon Fraser University, said that species of shortfin mako shark is recognized as an endangered species according to the IUCN Red List, and the decline in the Atlantic Ocean estimates 60% for the last 75 years.

The major threat for the sharks' population is fishing, which also includes bycatch. Sharks are caught for the shark finning process, after which fins are put on the market for decoration or shark fin soup. Catching the aquatic species of animals causes extreme stress, but shark finning is an extremely cruel practice. Shark finning is the process of fin removal, after which sharks are released back to the sea/ocean. Once released back to the waters without fins, sharks remain alive, but they are not able to swim. As a result, they sink to the bottom of the ocean and are eaten by other aquatic animals or die from suffocation.

When it comes to the legal protection of sharks, monitoring their population is challenging because sharks are the animals that inhabit international waters or high seas, the territory that does not belong to any jurisdiction, although fishing is regulated by a few international conventions. For example, UNCLOS contains the provisions regarding regulation in high seas and establishes general duties to “protect and preserve the marine environment in the maritime zones and high seas areas.” UNCLOS also sets out the requirement for all States to exercise a “‘total allowable’ catch based upon an established ‘maximum sustainable yield’ in achieving ‘optimum utilization’ of marine living resources.

Sharks are migratory species of animals, thus they are covered by the scope of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals and CITES. Sharks are protected by the animal protection acts in some countries of the world, such as Australia, New Zealand, some states of the United States have regulations with regard to the trade of shark fins, etc. The Marshall Islands and Honduras established marine protected areas. Palau and Madagascar created shark sanctuaries.  

"Grey Shark in Blue Water" by Holger Wulschlaeger from Pexels

Shark Awareness Day has been created to spread the word about the importance of sharks. There is an urgent need to elevate the status of sharks in the legal system and there is a necessity to stop fishing and overfishing activities that greatly impact the population of these aquatic animals, as well as other aquatic animals that are dependent on each other in the marine environment.

How to celebrate?

Institute of Animal Law of Asia will be hosting some guests with the topic on the protection of sharks soon. Stay tuned and follow us on social media to get recent updates. Visit our Events page to watch previous webinars.

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