Thursday, 25 September 2014

Awesome sharks and rays under threat!

The Blowfish
Welcome Shark Trust Peeps! The Blowfish hopes you are all well and full of sharky goodness. So much has happened since we last spoke, and with a new year of shark conservation in front of us we’d better get cracking!

A critical report has been released by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and sadly… it’s not good news. The report has stated that our beloved and totally awesome sharks and rays are now some of the most threatened animals on the planet! This is BAD news people.

It seems that some of the weirdest and most wonderful sharks and rays are also the ones most under threat. Shallow water species have taken a real hammering from overfishing and it’s going to take some serious work to get them back on track. But why do sharks and rays suffer so badly? I mean, plenty of fish in the sea, right?

Well, here’s the issue. Many species of sharks and rays reproduce very slowly and they take a long time to reach maturity – just like us! Even when they do reproduce, there is no guarantee that their offspring will survive the long journey to adulthood themselves. One day’s worth of unsustainable fishing could potentially take years to repair.

Sharks and rays that give birth to live young can be so difficult to protect. The mother could hold the babies inside her for many months. While she is pregnant, she is still susceptible to fishing. We know so little about some species that we don’t even know where they go to give birth to their pups! If we did, the Shark Trust could work their gills off to get those areas protected and then the slow rebuilding of the population could begin.

Eggcase © sghaywood photography
Those species that lay eggs, such as skates and catsharks, can sometimes be better off. Laying forty or so eggcases in pairs over just a few months, means that the adults can get back to feeding, growing and preparing for the next mating season; at least some of the eggs the adults have laid are bound to hatch. Plus, with the great help from you guys and gals on the Great Eggcase Hunt, the Shark Trust can provide data to help protect given areas that we know are important egg laying grounds.

 Sawfish © The Deep
Fishing is an expensive business and fuel for boats costs money. Therefore, it’s the coastal, shallow waters that have seen the most damage done because they are easily accessible for boats. The sawfish family live in coastal regions and are considered the number one candidate for most threatened sharks, skates and rays. Hardly an award you’d want to win. Sawfish are amazing because they have a huge long nose (rostrum if you want to be technical) with big sharp teeth sticking out from either side that – guess what – looks like a saw! When the sawfish sees something tasty swimming by, they rush up from the bottom and thrash that huge nose about, hoping to stun, damage or even impale a yummy snack.

Thresher Shark © Matt Newell
Another cracking clutch of critters that are struggling are the thresher sharks. Now I’m sure you all know what a thresher shark looks like. It has a massive long tail that is the key for getting a good feed on! Its method is not unlike the thrashin’ and stabbin’ of the sawfish: when a thresher shark sees a school of fish, it quickly swims straight through them and whips its huge tail back and forth. A fish that gets too close to that whip-like action ends up stunned, and the thresher shark can easily mop up any weakened prey when it returns.

So there we go sharky peeps! Some quick, but vital, knowledge to get you up to date with the current situation! As well as some awesome facts about some of our best, weirdest sharks! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to keep flying the flag for sharks, skates and rays! Get people you know talking about shark numbers and conservation. Oh, and don’t forget to put your best eggcase eyes on when you’re down the beach. The hunt for those mermaid purses continues and every one identified and reported is another step towards a shark-filled future.

➤ Find out more about sharks at the Pups Activity Zone

➤ Visit the Shark Trust website

Visit the Blowfish website

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