Dr. Chris Lowe is a Professor of Marine Biology at California State University Long Beach, and is Director of the CSULB Shark Lab. He has studied California’s great white sharks for more than 10 years, and has written more than 75 peer-reviewed scientific publications. Dr. Lowe also serves on the Board of Directors for the American Elasmobranch Society, the world’s largest professional organization of shark scientists. The following guest post was also submitted as a public comment to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Comments for consideration on the petition to list white shark as threatened or endangered species:
I am a Professor of Marine Biology and the Director of the CSULB Shark Lab at California State University Long Beach and have been conducting State and Federally permitted white shark research in California since 2002. In addition, as a professional and published shark scientist who has studied a variety of shark species around the world, including white sharks in California, I would like to take this opportunity to express my personal professional opinion in regards to the petition request and the science behind it.
Continue reading Guest post: Why a California great white shark scientist opposes CA Endangered Species Act protections
As many of our readers prepare for a romantic evening with their special someone (or a Single’s Awareness Day celebration with friends), I invite you to take a few minutes and learn how our toothy friends in the ocean do it. And by “do it”, I mean “do it”. Here are 10 things you might not have known about shark sex.
1) Sharks have external reproductive organs. A male shark has reproductive organs called “claspers” (yes, there are two of them), and females have a “cloaca”. As I regularly tell the high school students who join us for shark research trips, even if you don’t have a degree in marine biology, you’ll quickly recognize what you’re looking at.
A closeup of claspers (male reproductive organs) on a spotted Wobbegong shark. Photo credit: Richard Ling, WikiMedia Commons
Continue reading 50 Shades of Grey Reef Shark: A Valentine’s Day Special Report on Shark Sex (With Pictures! And Video!)
The combination of increasing extreme weather and social media has created, if you’ll pardon the pun, a perfect storm for sharing photos that show post-hurricane devastation (both real and fake). Many of them take the form of of a shark swimming through flooded city streets. For better or for worse, I’m known as “the shark guy” among my friends and family, which means that every time one of these pictures pops up, I get it e-mailed to me on the order of 50-100 times.
With the hopes of lightening my inbox and edu-ma-cating our loyal readers, presented below is a simple guide to determine if any given “shark after the storm” photo is fake.
1) Use your vast knowledge of shark biology to determine if a shark that size of that species could possibly be in water that deep.
The image above was one of the first “shark after a storm” pictures to go viral. It claimed to show a great white shark swimming through the flooded streets of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irene in 2011. Take a look at how high the car’s side view mirror is above the water. That means the water level, while more than high enough to be destructive to cars and buildings, is not nearly high enough for a shark of that size to be comfortably swimming in. Also, great white sharks are not typically found in the Caribbean in August.
Continue reading How to tell if a “shark in flooded city streets after a storm” photo is a fake in 5 easy steps
While the rest of the scientific and management community and I are grateful for the passionate support of many shark conservation advocates, passion is no substitute for knowledge and accuracy. Some conservation issues are a matter of opinion and can (and should) be reasonably be discussed by people with different views, but many others are a matter of fact. Presented here, in no particular order, are 13 incorrect statements and arguments commonly made by well-intentioned but uninformed shark conservation advocates, along with the reality of the situation.
1) “Shark finning” is synonymous and interchangeable with “the global shark fin trade.” Shark finning is a specific fishing method. It is not the only way to catch sharks, and it is not the only way to provide shark fins for the global fin trade. Stopping shark finning is a worthy goal (that has largely been accomplished already *) because it is a wasteful and brutal fishing method that complicates management, but stopping shark finning does not stop the global shark fin trade. Many people calling for a ban on finning really seem to want no shark fishing and no fin trade of any kind (a viewpoint I disagree with, but regardless, proper terminology matters). For more on the difference between shark fishing and shark finning, see this post from June 2012.
2) 100 million sharks a year are killed for their fins. The origin of this number is still debated, but it was popularized by Sharkwater. While we will likely never know exactly how many sharks are “killed for their fins”, the best scientific estimate of the scope of the fin trade we have comes from a 2006 paper by Dr. Shelley Clarke. She found that the fins of between 26 and 73 million sharks end up in the fin trade each year, with a simulation average of 38 million. Dr. Clarke wrote an essay for SeaWeb on the misuse of her work, which is worth a read.
3) 1 in 3 species of sharks face extinction. This one is actually relatively close to accurate, and can be fixed with the addition of just two words. An IUCN Shark Specialist Group report found that 1 in 3 species of “open ocean” sharks are Threatened with extinction (Threatened means Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered according to IUCN Red List standards). 1 in 6 species of shark, skate, ray, or chimera are Threatened- while still a troubling number indicative of a very bad situation, it’s half as bad as claimed by many advocates. Also, please note that I included skates and rays, which are similarly threatened but often ignored by conservation advocates (with one notable exception from 2012).
Continue reading 13 wrong things about sharks that conservation advocates should stop saying in 2013 (and what they should say instead)
The journal Brain, Behavior, and Evolution has just released a special issue on the nervous systems of cartilaginous fishes (sharks, skates, rays, and chimeras). The six research articles contained in the special issue both summarize and greatly expand what’s known about elasmobranch brains.
Dr. Kara Yopak, an elasmobranch nervous system expert who served as the editor of this special issue, explains why increased knowledge about the brain function of one of the most basal groups of vertebrates is fascinating and important:
“Although is a common misconception that sharks are small-brained and operating from a limited set of behaviors, they actually have relative brain sizes that are comparable to birds and mammals, a battery of highly developed sensory systems, and an extremely sophisticated suite of complex behavioral and social repertoires. Research in this area allows us to combat these preconceived notions about the shark brain and develop a better understanding of how the shark nervous system has evolved, how these animals receive and process information from their environment, and the implications these variations have for evolutionary adaptations in the brain across all vertebrates, including humans.”
The research featured in the special edition includes methods as diverse as histology, MRI, electrophysiology, and behavioral ecology. The implications of this research are vast, including the potential for species-specific bycatch reduction in fisheries which accidentally catch sharks, the development of more effective shark repellents, and an increased understanding of the evolution of the vertebrate brain. I encourage any scientists or shark enthusiasts interested in fisheries, evolution, or neuroscience to check it out.
A newly-released list of proposed amendments for the upcoming CITES Conference of the Parties includes proposals to protect ten species of sharks and rays, a record-breaking number. These include three species of hammerheads, oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagle sharks, three species of freshwater stingray, and both species of manta ray.
In total, 37 countries are involved in the proposed amendments. As expected, the United States is a co-sponsor of the oceanic whitetip measure. Additional noteworthy participants include major shark fishing nations like Mexico (co-sponsoring the hammerhead proposal) and the European Union (co-sponsoring the hammerhead and leading the porbeagle proposals).
“International trade is a major driver for shark fisheries around the world, and yet controls on this exploitation are woefully insufficient,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “We are grateful for continued U.S. leadership in addressing international shark trade, and welcome this unprecedented number of proposals to safeguard these vulnerable species under CITES.”
Threats to these animals are diverse and include directed catch for both fins and meat, bycatch, alternative medicine (gill rakers), and even the aquarium trade. Each of the freshwater stingray species are considered Data Deficient by the IUCN Red List, scalloped and great hammerheads are considered Endangered, and the other species are Vulnerable.
Species of elasmobranchs currently protected by CITES include the great white shark, whale shark, basking shark, and all species of sawfish. Porbeagles, oceanic whitetips, and hammerheads were proposed for CITES protections in 2010, but the measures failed.
Each of these proposals aims to list a species under CITES Appendix II, which requires that any international export of these species be certified as sustainable (including the issuing of permits). The discussion will take place next March at the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties in Bangkok, Thailand.
The government of Western Australia recently announced a plan to kill great white sharks that come close to popular swimming beaches, resulting in justifiable outrage from the scientific and conservation communities. I’ve written before (here and here) about why this is a bad idea that will harm a species in need of protection without making the ocean significantly safer for humans, and won’t rehash the details here. Instead, I want to focus on a claim recently made in support of this plan by Paul Mulshine, best known for taunting environmentalists by stating that shark fin dumplings would taste better if only more sharks were killed.
In a recent blog post on the subject, provocatively titled “Aussie’s common-sense approach to great white sharks has shark huggers’ jaws flapping” , Mulshine makes a lot of wildly inaccurate claims about great whites, shark attacks, and shark conservation.
Continue reading Are sharks ecologically important? Fact-checking another idiotic anti-shark rant from Paul Mulshine
Last Wednesday morning, the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament voted on proposed amendments that would, if passed, form their response to the European Commission’s 2011 proposal to end all removal of shark fins at sea (and thereby close loopholes in the EU finning ban). As the EU is the single largest supplier of shark fins to the Hong Kong markets, the eyes of the marine conservation community were focused squarely on Brussels, where the vote was taking place. Despite the numerous celebratory tweets , press releases , and Facebook updates that I observed, the vote didn’t go as well as hoped. The result has been described as “contradictory”, “confusing”, “puzzling”, and “inconsistent”, and it’s hard to disagree with that summary.
The Committee voted on a series of amendments, most of which had been debated earlier this year. Most of the problematic amendments were defeated and several positive amendments were endorsed. One of the most closely watched, which would have maintained exceptions to the current ban on at-sea fin removal and would have raised the fin to carcass ratio to 14% of dressed weight, was defeated. However, proposed text which refers (in principle, but without details) to removal of fins at sea also narrowly passed.
Yes, you read that correctly. MEPs (Members of European Parliament) voted to adopt text that suggests that removing fins at sea is sometimes acceptable, but voted to accept the Commission’s proposal to delete that part of the current regulation allowing for such exceptions. Contradictory, confusing, puzzling, and inconsistent indeed!
Don’t worry, though- this isn’t over. One of the next steps is a discussion before a Plenary session of the full European Parliament, which will consider these issues. This will likely take place in the next few months, perhaps as early as mid-October.
“We will continue to urge all MEPs to promptly remove all confusion in Plenary and clearly endorse a strict EU policy against removing shark fins at sea, without exceptions,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International.
I’ll keep you posted on what’s happening and how you can help.
Image from Jessica King, Marine Photobank
All eyes in the shark world are focused on Belgium, where the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee votes Wednesday on one of the most significant conservation policies in years: a stronger EU-wide ban on shark finning via a prohibition on removing sharks at sea, with no more exceptions. Since some of the details are quite technical, emotions are running high, and a lot of misinformation is spreading, I’ve prepared a quick guide to help our readers understand the proposed policy. For much more detailed updates, follow the Shark Alliance’s blog.
1) The proposed policy would strengthen the current EU finning ban, not ban fins. As has previously been discussed, some of the language surrounding shark conservation policy can be confusing. As a reminder, shark finning is the act of removing fins from a shark at sea and dumping the body overboard. Finning of live sharks is incredibly inhumane (the “finned” shark will bleed to death or drown when dumped overboard), and incredibly wasteful whether the shark is alive or dead (less than 5% of the shark is used). Scientists are almost universally opposed to shark finning because it is often associated with unsustainable fishing and the practice makes it difficult for managers to know what species of shark the fin came from. The policy that the European Parliament is voting on is an amendment to the current EU ”finning ban”,” which relies on a complicated and lenient fin to carcass ratio for enforcement. The European Commission has proposed requiring that sharks be landed with fins still attached, which would strengthen enforcement and data collection capabilities. This is not a “fin ban” that would make it illegal to buy, sell, or possess fins.
Continue reading 5 things you need to know about the proposed European Union shark finning ban, including how you can help