Protecting Sharks From Senseless Slaughter

Since 2006, 73 million sharks, annually, have been slaughtered, that's approximately a half a billion dead animals. That means as high as 90 percent of sharks around the globe have been decimated in the vast open oceans.Poachers are now even hunting sharks in reserves e.g. Columbia's Malpelo Wildlife Sanctuary.

When top-predators are removed there's a dreadful reverberation that results throughout entire ecosystems. Predators keep ecosystems in balance. They cull the old and weak -- essentially ensuring a high level of fitness amongst their prey.

When humans brutally massacre sharks for their fins (finning them alive and throwing them back into the sea) food webs unravel. Currently, we are knowingly impoverishing all oceans. As a result, jellyfish populations are exploding and new diseases are emerging.

Since 2006, approximately 1.7 million tons of shark flesh has been harvested annually; that's over 11 million tons of flesh.

Exactly what's going on? There's a burgeoning middle-class in East Asia with large disposable incomes fueling the demand for these heinous acts of environmental crimes.

Shark fins, which are cartilage and have no food value, are winding up in Asian soup bowls for $56 USD a serving. It's considered a status symbol, one that was traditionally reserved for either royalty or very high levels of society. Today, it has become the choice as the dish central to middle-class banquets and weddings.

At this rapacious rate of killing 73 million sharks per annum all shark species (approximately 400) and all rays (about 400 species) will be extinct by 2030 or sooner. This is absolutely unacceptable and each of us can make a difference, more about that later.

Recently, I spent a morning with some very intelligent grade 4s at Westmark School in Encino, California. They wanted to know why the second largest fish - a harmless filter-feeding basking shark - that once occurred along the west coast of North America in populations as large as hundreds of thousands were reduced to just 300 fish?

Children have a wonderful way of cutting right to the chase. Instead of finger-pointing and telling them about the inhumane assault on sharks worldwide, I decided to explain it in a concept that they could easily grasp.

How do you protect 30-foot, 8-ton basking sharks that can filter 1,100 tons of seawater every hour for tiny plankton? Well, in order to safeguard these gentle, filter-feeding giants we must know their habitat.

In June of 2011 biologists in La Jolla, California discovered two gigantic basking sharks and outfitted them with a satellite-based tracking devices in order to understand where they traveled.

One of the tags fell off a couple days later. But the other one lasted for 8 months and it provided science with the first glimpse of where these critters move.

This slow-moving (about 3 mph) enormous fish traveled about 2,500 miles over to Hawaii. Scientists assumed basking sharks were mostly surface-feeding fish, but new information from the tagged animal showed clearly that it lingered in twilit waters during the day at 1,600 feet and commuted each night upwards to a depth of 650 feet to feed.

The Westmark grade 4 science classes were thrilled to know of this discovery. And they were also intrigued to learn that next month in London at the Olympics, the Olympian swimmers will be wearing Speedo Fastskin FSII Swimsuits, which were inspired by sharkskin. Sharkskin has millions of tiny teeth-like ridges or dermal denticles, which significantly reduce drag and turbulence enabling water to flow efficiently over a shark's body. Olympians shatter records when they wear these sharkskin-suits; i.e., in Sydney in 2000, 28 of 33 Olympic Gold Medalists donned these suits.

There's no room for any of us to sit on the sidelines, any longer, and turn a blind eye to the destruction of our natural world.

If you've read this article then you have knowledge; and that means you have power and responsibility to make a difference, and improve the quality of life for sharks and our oceans.

Consider becoming a citizen scientist. Become committed to eating sustainable seafood by checking the list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium or the Blue Ocean Institute. Look for the Marine Stewardship Council certification logo of sustainable fisheries, which helps protect the oceans from piracy.

Underwater 'no-take' reserves in New Zealand, New England, St. Lucia, Florida and the Bahamas clearly show the ocean's awesome ability, over time, to regenerate its fish populations. Fish biologists predict that 50 percent of the ocean must be placed now into 'no-take' reserves to feed 10 billion people by 2050.

In order to achieve a crucial life-sustaining balance in the ocean, senseless shark slaughtering must be halted, immediately. Please support the conservation efforts of the Sea Shepherds. Do it -- for your children!

Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning science communicator, distinguished conservation biologist and author of The Incomparable Honeybee and The Insatiable Bark Beetle.