Surfer Pushed into the Path of a Shark

Many people from shark enthusiasts to researchers would love to swim with sharks in their natural environment. We all know the possible dangers of certain species of shark that are exaggerated by films such as ‘Jaws’ and played up in many documentaries. Due to an increased exposure to wild animals via this medium, are some people becoming too relaxed around wild animals?

There is no doubt in many individuals’ minds of the worth of well written and executed documentaries, but what about sensationalist pieces which concentrate on Hollywood stereotypes and do not mention the ‘whole deal’ when it comes to different species? Are we losing a sense of how dangerous wild animals can be with the apparent ‘safeness’ of certain species?

A video has been posted recently of a surfer that is pushed into the path of a shark in the Irish Sea and reported by the media as ‘not as dangerous as it may look’ due the shark in question, being a basking shark. This may be a case of bad journalism, but it highlights a worrying underlying thought of a ‘safe’ wild animal.

Basking sharks are filter feeders, concentrating on plankton found in the sea. Even if they did develop a taste for larger prey, they would not be able to swallow it as their throat only measures 4 inches in diameter. For a shark that can measure up to 10 meters, that is a surprisingly small throat!

However, this does not mean they are ‘safe’ to play around with because they are not ‘as bite-y’ as other sharks. Basking sharks typically measure around 6 – 8 meters, all of which is mostly muscle. If that surfer had been hit by the shark’s tail, it would have resulted in a morbidly different story and no doubt, cries of ‘Jaws’ off the Irish coast.

Despite the basking sharks tag as a ‘safe shark’, it is a very large and powerful wild animal. It is a shame that some bad journalism is promoting the apparent safeness of some species, probably making the decision to push your friend into the path of a basking shark easier than if it was a great white!

Videos like this are making the protection of this vulnerable species and other species harder as disturbances to their behaviour by unregulated boats or flying surfers, will have severe consequences for their population.  Although social media is a great way to promote conservation, unfortunately, some irresponsible individuals are using it to get more hits, retweets and a popular hashtag.

 

Haley Dolton

 

 

Shark Produce Consumption Potentially Life Changing

It is widely known that sharks are relentlessly persecuted every year in the finning industry to provide the ‘star’ ingredient in shark fin soup popular in Asia. In addition to this, individuals wanting to increase their general health consume other shark products such as oil supplements and cartilage pills.

The shark finning industry is a lucrative business around the globe and provides a vital income to poorer areas (although the majority of any profits from distributing shark fin soup will go to the established businesses which sell it). Estimates of how many sharks are killed per year range from 70 – 100 million due to finning and by – catch. Most shark species are listed as endangered by the IUCN red list due to overfishing, reaching sexual maturity later in life and not producing many offspring during their lifetime.

Finning is an extremely cruel practice involving the removal of the fins whilst the sharks are alive and then returning them to the sea. For a species that requires its fins for locomotion to allow water to flow over its gills to breath, they are left to suffocate on the ocean floor.

Researchers at the University of Miami have discovered that shark fins (collected from living specimens of 7 species of shark) that may be intended for consumption, contained high concentrations of β-Methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA). BMAA is a neurotoxin that is linked to neurodegenerative diseases in humans such as Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig Disease (ALS), significantly reducing people’s quality of life.

This research may come as quite a shock to those that like to tuck into a bowl of shark fin soup or consume shark liver oil, as this news is potentially life changing! As for the sharks, the results from this research is obviously very encouraging for the recovery of their populations, as it could potentially mean, the banning (or higher control) of shark produce around the world because of the very high concentrations of BMAA found.

Haley Dolton

KILLER WHALES VISIT CORNWALL

Photo courtesy of Alan Vernon

Every summer in the UK, there will undoubtedly be a story in the news regarding a great white shark being spotted off the Cornish coast. These stories are reported in the peak of the summer holidays, scaring the tourists that were brave enough to venture into our chilly seas, to stay firmly on land. Hopefully, the general public will react positively to the news of a mother and calf killer whale duo, being spotted 100 metres off the Cornish coast.

It is widely known that killer whales are present in Scotland’s waters and during the summer, they venture closer to shore around Shetland, Orkney and Caithness. For the rest of the year, it is hypothesized that pods of killer whales follow the migration of mackerel around Scotland to gain a reliable food source, in addition to larger prey such as seals.

The killer whales spotted off the Cornish coast, could belong to the same pods in Scotland, but why have they travelled south? It could be due to the extremely high population of seals found in both Devon and Cornwall, providing a very attractive food source for hungry killer whales. In fact, there has been an instance of killer whales preying upon a basking shark, a species that frequents the Devon and Cornish waters every year. This shows killer whales are no strangers to migrating further south from Scotland to obtain vital food.

Hopefully, the public will react positively to this news without shouting the dolphin equivalent of; “JAWS!” and causing panic within the community that use the sea for financial and recreational purposes. Although they are apex predators, a wild killer whale has never killed a human and if we don’t bother them, they are very unlikely to cause harm to us.

This sighting highlights the diversity of the UK’s fauna and must be very exciting news for the killer whale researchers based in Scotland. It may stimulate new research, due to possibly highlighting an unknown migration route for killer whales.

So don’t be afraid of this news, grab your binoculars and head down south for a chance to see one of natures beautiful, top predators cruising around.

Haley Dolton