Last spring, we held an ethical debate focusing on a paper called “Science or Slaughter”. The authors claimed that sometimes it is necessary to kill sharks to answer important scientific questions. One of the authors agreed to be interviewed for Shark Science Monday. Enjoy! As always, feel free to ask questions of the interview subject in the comments and I’ll send them her way.
Apologies for the background noise halfway through the interview- this took place during a World Cup game, and you are hearing excitement from people three floors down in the Providence Convention Center. Background noise filters can only do so much, but what Michelle has to say is important and I wanted to include the entire interview.
I attest to the fact that sometimes lethal research is necessary. I used a nonlethal method to sample my spiny dogfish stomachs, but still ended up having to cut open some of them to prove that my nonlethal method worked. Hopefully the sacrifice of a few sharks now means the survival of many more in the future.
Although I can see the benefits of lethal research, I cannot help to view lethal research as an unnecessary mean to collect information. The use for lethal research is undeniable. I, however, find it nonsensical to use the method of lethal research when by-catch is available. It seems like a waste of time and animal life to go out and catch more wild life when specimens are already available. Time and money should rather be placed on building relationships with fishery businesses to collect usable specimens. If millions of animals are dying anyways, why don’t we kill two birds with one stone? By researching and contacting commercial fishing companies we could decrease the total number of sharks killed. If this option did not exist the need for lethal research would make more sense, however, because of the actuality of commercial fishing we should refrain from killing any more sharks when there are sharks already available for research.
Because using bycatch as a primary sampling source creates an economic incentive for fisherman to kill non-target species, which ends up killing far more animals than the small scale lethal sampling that scientist conduct?
A certain amount of this already happens. Scientists ride along with commercial fishing vessels to sample species they may not necessarily be targeting. In New England some shark researchers tag along on swordfish boats to sample the sharks they frequently capture as bycatch. Large sharks captured in fishing tournaments are also the source of a lot of what we currently know about the diets, parasites, and condition of those species. It’s important when working with bycatch to makes sure you’re actually there to sample only what’s actually caught rather than just picking up bycatch at the dock, which will definitely encourage fishermen to keep fish they’re not supposed to.
I believe it is perfectly okay to be killing these sharks for research. However, we should very much continue the efforts with the by-catch until it is exhausted. In the past, we have had to kill a portion of every species in order to learn their reproductive systems and things, we are just behind with sharks. Michelle Heupel is not suggesting we kill sharks on a regular basis. Scientists need to gather data now, and once they have learned more about this 50% of sharks we are unknowledgeable about the killing can cease. Killing sharks is a means of getting scientists one step closer to further helping and conserving sharks. I agree with Chuck when he says, “Hopefully the sacrifice of a few sharks now means the survival of many more in the future.”
Yes, there are some cases where lethal sampling is necessary however, is it necessarily the best idea? When first reading the introduction to the article the first thing that popped into my head was when getting a drivers license you are given the opportunity to choose whether or not you would like to be a heart donor, giving you the choice. I feel strongly that it is completely unnecessary for scientific researchers to kill sharks for research purposes. It is one thing to use a shark, which has already died, and say, washed up on the shore therefore there is no real harm being done. Yes there is no issue with endangerment with sharks as they have a large population however as time goes on and this is still being done, that is certainly something, which could be of an issue in the future.