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What would ocean be without sharks?

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POSTED: November 24, 2010 9:26 a.m.

Dear editor: I recently read an article about an award winning catch of a tiger shark during the course of a month-long shark fishing contest in Destin, Fla. The picture taken alongside the bloody carcass of what was once a magnificent animal included a couple of children and the local beauty queen.
Personally, I gave up fishing all together when the price of dynamite got so high. I never was very good at it any way, but I can catch a shark! You put a line in the water with a hunk of bloody meat attached. You drag it along drinking beer and burning fuel until inevitably a shark, of whatever species, latches on.
It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature. She can be a harsh disciplinarian. Sharks are taken commercially and for recreation with great regularity. Who knows how many were slaughtered in the month-long Destin tournament. At what point do we stop slaughtering these animals, stringing them up on a wire and taking pictures of the bloody mess with a “Miss Destin” in the picture? I fail to see the point.
Approximately 50 of the various shark species are now “near threatened,” “threatened” or “endangered.” There is an organization called the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that represents a global union of governmental agencies involved in the conservation status of species. They have classified the tiger shark as “near-threatened.” The fact that the tiger is one of the more prolific species, with a birth rate of as many as 50 pups at a time, is probably the only thing that has, to date, kept them off the endangered list. Even with that high a birth rate, they are still classified as “near threatened” as a direct result of human intervention.
Tiger sharks are second only to great whites in attacks on humans. Right behind the tiger comes the bull shark. There are about 75 shark attacks annually in the entire world, and about 10 of those attacks result in death. You stand a much better chance of dying from a bee sting or a lightning strike. That pretty well crosses out revenge as a reason to slaughter them.
Sharks are “apex predators.” They are at the near top of the food chain. Their value in the marine environment and their role in helping to maintain the ecological balance far exceed the value of a fishing tournament prize for killing one of them. There is no real art in catching one of them. They eat anything. They are eating machines. The skill to catch a big one depends entirely on whether a big one happens to be in the area when you drop your bait over the side.
Most sharks generally grow very slowly. It takes many species up to 18 years to mature. They generally reproduce only every other year, and then for the most part they produce only one or two pups. That increases their vulnerability to become endangered. They are amazing creatures, well equipped to do the job Mother Nature intended them to do. They have something called lateral line receptors and electro receptors that give them a super sensitive ability to detect motion and presence of prey in the waters around them for great distances. Their sense of smell will detect blood literally miles away in the water. Sharks are scavengers that frequently feed on the carcasses of dead animals in the water, which in itself is a service to us.
One thing is for sure, you are not going to sneak up on one or away from one. Rule No.1: Don’t go swimming with them, particularly from dusk to dawn. Tigers generally feed at night. They are free ranging in a larger part of our oceans. That means the shark you see on Monday is probably not the one you see on Tuesday. The really big ones generally stay deep, but young adults tend to stay closer to shorelines.
So exactly what is their reason to exist? It’s far more complicated than I can explain, and marine scientists have barely scratched the surface on the study of them. We do some basic things. For instance the tiger shark is generally a bottom feeder. Its diet includes such creatures as the goosefish, a.k.a. monkfish, sea robins and sea ravens. These species of fish, also found on the bottom, are generally considered to be “trash” fish and not desirable to anglers or commercial fisheries. These trash fish, which are a favorite of tiger sharks, in turn eat bivalves and gastropods, i.e., clams, oysters, scallops, whelks and conch. In turn, these bivalves and gastropods produce billions of eggs and microscopic life form that enters the food chain vital to the existence of marine life. Somewhere along that food chain we find bass, trout, redfish, flounder and such.
Along with them, we find a good reason to remind ourselves that our marine environment and its inhabitants are all connected. Kill too many tiger sharks and you damage the system that supports game fish. For example, no predator for the monkfish means more bivalves and gastropods get eaten and less life form enters the food chain. Less food equals fewer game fish, and the beat goes on.
We are part of that environment, one part dependant on the other. The senseless slaughter of an animal like a tiger shark is just that, senseless.

Capt. Roy Hubbard
Richmond Hill

 

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