Sharks Under Pressure





 The Future of Shark Diving



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  Long line fishing kills thousands of sharks a year even when they are not targeted.  This photograph is of a Caribbean reef shark with its jaw broken by a long line.     



  These are basking shark fins and a mako shark head from a restaurant in Tokyo that specializes in shark fin soup.  Shark populations have been decimated to fill the demand for shark fin soup and products such as shark cartilage tablets.  When diving off North Carolina in the '80s, I used to see the dorsal fins of dusky sharks rather frequently.  I do not see them anymore.  Shark divers actually have few places they can travel around the world to reliably see sharks.  

Photos of shark finning taken by Jim Abernethy in Ecuador.  It's pretty amazing when you think about it.  Sharks have survived several mass extinctions of other animals, the rise and fall of the dinosaurs among others, all over the course of 400 million years that they have been swimming in the ocean.  It all ends in a soup bowl.  I have found the lack of understanding in Asia so profound, that more than once colleagues in Asia have suggested that I order the soup when I am there because I love sharks. 



  I encountered this dusky shark about 120 feet below the surface off stern of the wreck Papoose in the waters near North Carolina.  At nine to ten feet long, she was the largest dusky shark I have seen.  Her back appeared bent and she had a loop of nylon rope around her body.  She did not swim very well.  She seemed curious about me, but never swam close enough for me to cut the rope.  Her belly looked hollow and empty.  




Image 2009 Robert Cantrell

  Curiosity leads sharks to investigate new objects they encounter in the ocean.  Here Jim Abernethy and his crew rescue a lemon shark caught with a loop of rope around his neck just like the Dusky shark pictured above.  Lawrence Groth recently cut such a loop off a white shark.  Sharks cannot swim in reverse and nylon does not degrade in the water, so these loops eventually kill the sharks and then stand ready to kill the next ones that check them out..  

  On a more hopeful note, the Bahamas calculated that each of their reef sharks is worth $120,000 to the local economy alive.  This gives them some measure of protection, much the way that photography tourism has helped to protect some African wildlife populations.  However, numerous sharks had hooks in their mouths and bodies from long lines.  The top shark in this photo has three long line hooks down the length of its body.  

  This shark is actually lucky.  Being hooked by a long line restricts a shark's movements.  Sharks need to move to breathe.  If a shark stays on a long line too long, it tires and drowns.  Being that long lines are left adrift for extended periods of time, the long line that hooked this shark probably drowned many other members of its species.  

Copyright (c) 2008 - Robert Cantrell