Did you know that some shark populations have declined due to overfishing? Did you know that some once-declined shark populations have recovered? If you’re like my twitter followers, it’s likely that you’ve heard the bad news, but have not heard the good news.
Why does this matter?
It’s important to share bad news so that people know there’s a problem, and that we need to act to solve that problem. However, it’s also important to share good news so that people know that a problem is solvable! This idea was behind the birth of the #OceanOptimism online outreach campaign.
Fog Horn (A Call to Action)
Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)
- Yes, that is the esophagus of a great white shark, in the wild. No, you should not attempt to replicate this experience.
Fog Horn (A Call to Action)
Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)
“To build a city at the bottom of the sea! Insanity. But where else could we be free from the clutching hand of the Parasites? Where else could we build an economy that they would not try to control, a society that they would not try to destroy? It was not impossible to build Rapture at the bottom of the sea. It was impossible to build it anywhere else.”
Andrew Ryan, Bioshock
Rapture, a city beneath the sea, the crowning achievement of Randian industrialist Andrew Ryan. This atmospheric world of technological wonder and urban decay serves as the setting for one of the greatest video games of all time, Bioshock. The player, finding themselves stranded at sea in a fiery plane crash, makes their way towards a lonely lighthouse, descends into the sunken, desolate city, and unlocks the mysteries surrounding the creation and destruction of a most unusual city.
Rapture. From Bioshock.
Though many questions are answered as the player journeys into the heart of Rapture, collecting audio diaries of its residents along the way, one question still eludes: How deep is Rapture and where, exactly, is it?
Dr. Christopher Neff is a Lecturer in Public Policy in the Department of Government at the University of Sydney. He completed the first PhD on the “Politics of Shark Attacks” and has been published in Marine Policy, Coastal Management and the Journal of Homosexuality.
Jaws is a great horror movie. Personally, it’s one of my favorites. Politically, it kills me. While it has certainly inspired generations of marine biologists, researchers and social scientists (like me) since its release in 1975, it has also served as the most powerful vehicle to advance public fear of sharks in modern history. These two different implications become problematic because while sharks make for great movies, movies make for lousy public policy. When tragic shark bite incidents occur, there is a classic Jaws-esque analogy just waiting to be made. And sometimes the media circus turns into policy.
I recently wrote an article called “The Jaws Effect” for the Australian Journal of Political Science comparing policymaking in Western Australia and the movie Jaws. While, we see some of these comparisons in real-time the reason it is important to study this formally is because these moments can tell us about the tensions between politicians and scientists that lead to myth-based policies.
Michelle Jewell is a Zoologist specialized in predator/prey behaivour and the Scientific Communicator for EDNA Interactive. She has spent the past 4 years studying the behaviour of white sharks and Cape fur seals at Geyser Rock, ‘Shark Alley’, South Africa.
Predators are highly influential in ecosystems because of the many top-down effects they can have. The most obvious and direct way predators influence an ecosystem is by eating and reducing the number of prey animals in the system, but another equally important way is the indirect influence they have on the behaviour of prey animals.
If you have avoided parking on a risky-looking street, taken a different route between classes to avoid a bully, or abandoned a forest hike because of snapping twigs in the distance, you have been indirectly affected by perceived ‘predators’. In the wild, prey animals will also change their behaviour when they perceive that predators are around, and these altered behaviours often influence other species, ultimately shaping the ecosystem.
Michelle Wcisel is a Zoologist specialized in predator/prey behaivour and the Scientific Communicator for EDNA Interactive. She has spent the past 4 years studying the behaviour of white sharks and Cape fur seals at Geyser Rock, ‘Shark Alley’, South Africa.
Animal movement is often shaped by natural barriers; a fish can’t leave the river it swims in, a tortoise is going to struggle to climb a cliff face, and a pangolin can’t swim across the sea. These barriers come quite naturally to the animals, yet researchers have often struggled to account for these constraints in movement analysis, particularly when it comes to estimating home range (or ‘Utilization Distributions’, UDs). Unfortunately, the few solutions that have attempted to account for barriers are often incredibly complicated without providing much improvement overall, so previous studies have been forced to simply ‘clip out’ the parts of the estimate that extend over these inconceivable areas (i.e. Heupel et al. 2004; Hammerschlag et al. 2012; Jewell et al. 2012).
Recent plans in Western Australia to place acoustic tags in sharks and have them tweet their location when they approach a beach have resulted in a sharknado of media coverage. The plan has been covered by internet technology news giant Mashable, Fox News, NPR news, Popular Science, and NBC news (which, with “sharks with frickin’ tweets,” has what I believe to be the best headline. That one also interviews me.) When a tagged shark approaches the beach, a tweet like this results:
I can understand why a project involving both sharks and twitter caught the media’s eye… and why about a billion of you e-mailed or tweeted the news to me. However, these aren’t the first sharks to be on twitter!
When California resident June Emerson snapped a photo of her children playing at the beach, she didn’t expect it to generate international news. Although the kids seem to be adorable, that isn’t what captured the attention of the media. In a wave behind them, you can see the outline of a large animal swimming by (or being “terrifying” and “creeping up on them,” as the Daily Mail called it).
Photo by June Emerson, snarky comments by yours truly
The media, including local, national, and international outlets, wasted no time in calling it a shark. However, as Jason Goldman wryly noted, “not all grey things with dorsal fins in the ocean are sharks.” This animal is almost certainly a dolphin. I asked a dozen shark scientists and a handful of dolphin scientists, and all quickly agreed that this is a dolphin.
As I’m no fan of merely appealing to authority (though I’ll trust someone with years of training over the painful to read comments on many of the news pieces), I’ll share with you how we can tell. First, let’s clean up and brighten the image. Since I am not a photoshop master, let’s borrow a cleaned up and enhanced image from KTLA.
Original image by June Emerson, enhancement by KTLA.
Even though the image is somewhat blurry (understandable, as June was trying to photograph her children and not the animal behind them,) there are still easily identifiable features that clearly show that this is not a great white shark, but a dolphin.
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).