Ocean Currents » sharks http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 31 Aug 2016 20:32:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Whale Sharks Move onto the Endangered List http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/30/whale-sharks-move-onto-the-endangered-list/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/30/whale-sharks-move-onto-the-endangered-list/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2016 13:30:51 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12718

Written by Dr. Alistair Dove

You may have seen in the press the recent announcement from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, that whale sharks (along with the enigmatic wing head shark) have been downgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List.  I thought it might help to explain exactly what that means, so I’ve done it as a sort of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

What’s “the IUCN Red List”?
The Red List is a sort of master-file about the conservation status of different species.  As you can see from the screen capture below, the ranking goes from Least Concern (LC) for really common species, all the way down to Extinct (EX), with a couple of other categories for species that haven’t been evaluated (Not Evaluated NE) or that were evaluated but there wasn’t enough scientific data to decide on a status (Data Deficient DD).  All of these levels are recoverable, except for Extinct (EX); there ain’t no coming back from gone.

http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/19488/0

How are these changes decided?
In all cases, a Red List decision is made by a group of experts on the species in question, who usually get together in person and bring as much information as they can about where the animal lives and how many there are, as well as population trends (up or down) and data about the threats that the species faces; IUCN produces guidelines to assist in the evaluation process.  In this case, the committee of whale shark experts gathered right here, at Georgia Aquarium, in late 2013 as part of the 3rd International Whale Shark Conference.  The committee was chaired by Dr. Simon Pierce, one of our collaborators from Marine Megafauna Foundation, and I was on the committee too.  Because these things are important, it took a while to verify, review and revise the committee’s report and for IUCN to make the formal recommendation.

What does it mean to be Endangered?
This is actually a really important question because there are at least two types of “endangered”.  In both types the word “endangered” is used to imply that a species is in danger of going extinct in all or a large part of its natural range.  The IUCN Red List type is non-binding, by which I mean that it carries no legal responsibilities and triggers no automatic protections.  It’s solely an internationally-recognized agreement about conservation status.  It’s not trivial, though; on the contrary, it’s kind of the gold standard of conservation status.  The other type of “endangered” is listing on the United States Endangered Species Act (1973).  That one has legislative teeth.  When a species is listed under ESA, Federal Government agencies (in the case of marine animals, that’s NOAA Fisheries) have to take responsibility for conservation actions that will reverse the decline, by putting in place recovery plans and overseeing their implementation.

What does this all mean for whale sharks?
Put simply, what it means is that whale sharks need our help.  The population of whale sharks is doing OK in parts of the range, including the West Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico, but other parts are in real trouble, including much of the Indian Ocean.  Given that we don’t know for sure whether whale sharks are all one big population or divided into subpopulations, or how changes in one geographic area affect another, it’s more important than ever that we work to understand this species better.  We have to answer some really basic important questions like “Where are they born?” “Where are all the little ones?”, “Where do they mate?”, and “Where are all the big males?”, because we don’t know any of these things.  We need to put all that together and come up with a better estimate of the global population size.  At the same time, we need to raise awareness of the threats that illegal fishing, bycatch, ship strike and under-regulated ecotourism pose, and wherever possible take steps to reduce these threats.

We should strive towards a goal that at the next International Whale Shark Conference in 2019, we can have another Red List workshop, at which we can conclude that whale sharks can pull back from Endangered to one of the less concerned categories.  That’s the kind of ocean I want to swim in.  Who’s with me?

 Dr. Alistair Dove is the Director of Research and Conservation at the Georgia Aquarium. This post was originally published on the Georgia Aquarium website on August 16, 2016. 

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What Type of Shark Are You? #SharkWeek http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/26/what-type-of-shark-are-you-sharkweek/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/26/what-type-of-shark-are-you-sharkweek/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 13:00:15 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12366

The long-awaited week filled with chilling shark drama has arrived: #SharkWeek 2016! To get you in the Shark Week spirit, we have put together a personality quiz that will match you with your perfect shark-mate. There’s no better time to discover what type of shark best matches your personality. With over 400 different species of sharks, the possibilities are endless, so take the quiz to get your results. After you find your personality companion, post your results and see if your friends agree!

If you find your curiosity getting you into sticky situations, you and a tiger shark could make the best of friends! Adventure not really your thing? That’s ok. Greenland and nurse sharks might be more your style. You’ll never know if you don’t take our quiz!

You can find the Shark Week schedule here. If you are going to spend a week learning all about sharks, you should definitely know which one you are most similar to!

Tori Glascock is an intern at Ocean Conservancy from New Jersey and is a rising junior at Stevens Institute of Technology. When she is not in the office you can find her in the pool, on the beach and playing with her dog Phoebe. 

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They’re Back! The Return of the Big Predators to Coastal Waters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/09/theyre-back-the-return-of-the-big-predators-to-coastal-waters/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/09/theyre-back-the-return-of-the-big-predators-to-coastal-waters/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 12:00:25 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10412

This guest blog comes from Dr. Chris Lowe, a professor of marine biology and the director of the CSULB Shark Lab

Despite the potential Discovery Channel royalties, it’s not easy being at the top of the food chain. Apex predators like sharks, that occupy the top of a food chain, are typically few in number because of certain characteristics (e.g. slow growth, low reproduction, delayed maturity and high longevity). And they are greatly dependent on animals lower on the food chain, thus dependent on the environmental conditions that support these food sources.

Humans, the Earth’s reigning “apex predator,” are clearly an exception to this rule. The human population has grown exponentially, particularly along coastal communities, bringing with it a litany of impacts on our coastal ocean, including habitat loss, pollution and overfishing. Rapid coastal development in California back in 1940s-1970s, resulted in some of the worst coastal water and air quality that existed anywhere in the country.

But since the 1970’s California has significantly improved water and air quality due to strict environmental regulations on discharge and emissions.  In fact, California now has some of the most conservative environmental regulations in the country when it comes to water and air quality.  As a result of strict regulations on waste water discharge, the state has cleaner water now than it did in the 1970s even with three times more people living along the coast.

Yet, despite all of this legislation and regulation, we’re constantly bombarded with “doom & gloom” messages about the state of our ocean. Have any of those state and federal legislative and regulatory acts resulted in any net benefits over the last four decades?  If I were to tell you things may be getting better, and the evidence for this is seen in the recovery of our marine predator populations — would you believe it?

While it’s taken decades, many marine predator populations are increasing due to better water and air quality, improved fisheries management and a restoration of ecosystem function — all of which occurred regardless of an ever growing human coastal population.

Over the last nine years, my students and I have studied juvenile white sharks off the coast of southern California as part of a collaborative effort with Monterey Bay Aquarium. Because newborn white sharks can be found in coastal waters off southern California, scientists hypothesize that this area is a nursery for white sharks in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean.

Because of their protection through state (1994) and federal laws (2005), juvenile white sharks that get accidentally caught in gillnets are no longer being sold to fish markets and restaurants and many are instead being safely released back into the ocean. This steady increase in the number of young sharks being caught in the fishery since 1994 is likely attributed to population growth, which also suggests that conservation measures put in place to protect white sharks is working even with existing fishery interactions.

Figure 1.  Number of white sharks reported captured in gillnet fisheries each year (left axis – bars).  Number of gillnets set per year (right axis – lines and symbols).  Blue bars represent white sharks less than 1 year old (< 6’ long), red indicate juvenile white sharks between 1 and 7-12 years old (6.5-12’ long), yellow indicates subadult and adult white sharks (over 7-12 years old, > 12’ long), and green indicates sharks of unknown size.

Harbor seals, northern elephant seals, fur seals, dolphins, grey whales and blue whales have also shown similar dramatic come-backs resulting from protection. These population recoveries over the last 20 years have no doubt provided the adult portion of the white shark population with substantial food resources in coastal waters and have certainly enhanced the population’s ability to grow.

The recovery of white sharks off California may be the best example of a conservation success story that we have to offer. It shows we can fix things, once we identify the problem, even with a growing human population. While there’s still a lot to be done for our ocean on a global scale, this is a testament to our collective desire and sacrifice for a cleaner, healthier ocean.

About Dr. Chris Lowe

Dr. Chris Lowe is a professor of marine biology and the director of the CSULB Shark Lab.  He and his students use various forms of new technology to study the behavior and physiology of sharks, rays and economically important fishes. For more information about the CSULB Shark Lab check out their website (www.csulb.edu/explore/shark-lab), Facebook: CSULB Sharklab, and Twitter: @CSULBsharklab

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Become a Citizen Scientist with SharkBase http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/07/become-a-citizen-scientist-with-sharkbase/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/07/become-a-citizen-scientist-with-sharkbase/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 12:48:12 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10382

Our guest blog comes from Dr. Ryan Kempster, a shark biologist in the Neuroecology Group at the University of Western Australia, and founder of the shark conservation group Support Our Sharks (SOS).  Ryan founded SOS to inform the world about the plight of the most vulnerable shark species. His research focuses on the sensory biology and conservation of sharks and rays.  Sharks have always been his passion, and protecting them his goal.  To do this, Ryan has embarked on a career in research to better understand sharks. He takes every opportunity to communicate his findings to the general public in the hope that he can inspire others to follow in his passion for protecting these amazing animals.

It’s Shark Week! While sharks are getting all the attention this week, I want to take the opportunity to introduce you to an exciting global shark database: SharkBase. This is your chance to get involved and become a Citizen Shark Scientist! In order to protect sharks, we need to learn more about them. Effective management of sharks starts with an understanding of their population status, which can then tell us about their future conservation and how we can help protect them.

Unfortunately, many shark species (and their close relatives the rays, skates and chimaeras) are at significant risk of unrecoverable decline, with some species having declined to near extinction in recent years. I believe that Citizen Science could hold the key to improving our understanding and management of shark* populations, whilst also advancing community education. This is why my team and I have developed SharkBase, a global shark* encounter database helping to map the distribution and population structure of sharks* worldwide.

Through SharkBase, we are building a global network of Citizen Scientists collecting vital information about these important animals. Using the data gathered by SharkBase, we will not only be able to map the distribution of sharks globally, but, as sharks play a vital role in marine environments, we can also use this information to infer patterns of marine ecosystem health. All data is freely available to download from the SharkBase website, and is used by researchers around the world to assist in the management of shark* populations.

YOU can help – whether you have personally encountered a shark* or not, you can contribute to SharkBase and help researchers better understand these important animals. Simply sign up at www.shark-base.org and get started.

Here are just a couple of the ways that you can get involved:

  1. Log your past, present and future shark* encounters with SharkBase. If you have photos of sharks* on your computer, you can log these as long as you know the date and location they were taken. You don’t even need to know the species, as our scientists can identify them for you. Alternatively, if you don’t have a photo, but you have a sighting recorded in your dive log or trip diary, then you can submit this sighting (as long as you know the species, date, and location of the encounter).
  2. Log other people’s shark* encounters with SharkBase. Everyday, thousands of photos and videos of shark* encounters are uploaded to the internet. You can log these sightings as long as you know the date and location. Simply type the web address of the source material (ie: YouTube link or Google image, etc.) into the sighting record so that our scientists can verify the sighting and remove duplicates.

For more information on how you can get involved, visit the SharkBase ‘Get Started’ page (http://www.shark-base.org/get_started). We look forward to welcoming you on board as a SharkBase Citizen Scientist.

* includes sharks, rays and chimaeras.

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Best to Be Aware, Rather than Beware, of Sharks http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/06/best-to-be-aware-rather-than-beware-of-sharks/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/06/best-to-be-aware-rather-than-beware-of-sharks/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 12:00:10 +0000 Adena Leibman http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10360

As the summer season kicks into full gear, beachgoers across the country are packing their sunscreen and heading to the coast. And though millions of people each year enjoy the ocean without consequence, a couple of unfortunate shark attacks have made the news recently.

Experts are analyzing temperature, current patterns and other ocean conditions to determine what, if any, unique combination of factors could have spurred this above average number of bites. Most likely though, it is merely a consequence of more people being in the water. As populations along the coast grow and more people spend time in the ocean, the probability of interactions between sharks and people increases.

However, it is important to keep these events in perspective. The actual likelihood of being bit by a shark is extremely low. There are a number of probability comparisons to pull from, but one of my favorites is that your likelihood of being bitten by another person in New York City is about 100 times greater than finding yourself on the wrong end of a shark.

There are over 400 species of sharks—ranging in size from the world’s largest fish to a shark that can fit in your hand—that show an amazing array of diversity. Aside from the more well-known species like white sharks and hammerheads, there are also the slow moving filter-feeders known as basking sharks, spinner sharks that are known to leap out of the water, and even the oddly enchanting goblin shark. Some are even downright adorable.

Nearly all of them are at real danger at the hands of humans. Each year, millions of sharks are killed in fisheries, either as targeted species or accidental bycatch. Further, there is still a tragic demand for shark fins in some countries. Finning is a brutal practice that often involves removing the fins from the shark while it is still alive, and then returning the mortally injured animal back into the ocean to drown or bleed to death. Though we are seeing growing support for eliminating the practice of finning, there is still a long way to go. In the meantime, a quarter of sharks and rays (close relatives of sharks) are threatened with extinction.

Sharks predate dinosaurs and have been swimming the seas for nearly 450 million years. Yet, now they are facing some of the greatest challenges to their survival. Being well-informed on what fish products you purchase, supporting campaigns to ban shark finning in your state, and helping educate people about the wonder of sharks are great ways to start getting involved in shark conservation.

But in case you still have some hesitation about entering the water, we’ve collected some simple pointers below that can help ensure you have a safe and fun summer:

1)     Stay in good company: Avoid swimming alone and try to stay near a lifeguard stand, if possible. Sharks tend to target solitary prey and in case you get into trouble, it’s always good to have someone nearby who can help.

2)     Avoid hot spots: Stay clear of piers, stormwater and effluent outflows, sandbar ledges and other sharp drop-offs, and places where people are actively fishing. Avoiding these areas that generally attract bait fish and subsequently sharks will help keep you clear of possible negative interactions.

3)     Play it cool: Sharks have evolved to be fine-tuned hunters who are very sensitive to visual, olfactory, and other sensory cues. For a shark, erratic movements, changing color patterns and blood point to what it interprets as injured—and thus easy—prey. Avoid frantic splashing (by you or your pet) and shiny or reflective jewelry and clothing. Do not enter the water if you are bleeding.

4)     Remain aware of your surroundings: Maintain a safe distance to shore and swim during daylight hours, avoiding sunrise and sunset. Stay alert for shark sightings and other safety warnings.

5)     Be respectful: Of course, if you spot a shark do not harass it. It is important to remember that sharks are powerful animals that deserve our respect. Understand that you are the one evading their territory. So please take care of our ocean and sharks, and have a great beach season!

For more information on sharks, please join us for our science series this week as part of our “Shark Week” coverage.

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Remembering Dr. Eugenie Clark, the “Shark Lady” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/27/remembering-dr-eugenie-clark-the-shark-lady/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/27/remembering-dr-eugenie-clark-the-shark-lady/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 16:08:11 +0000 Adena Leibman http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9952

The ocean lost an amazing ally this week. Dr. Eugenie Clark passed away at the age of 92 in Sarasota, Florida. She received her Ph.D. from New York University and embarked on a 50+ year career in the name of the ocean. She worked in a variety of prestigious research institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She founded the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory (now the Mote Marine Laboratory) in Sarasota, which conducts research on sharks and a number of other marine species and issues.

It’s difficult for me to properly express how much Dr. Eugenie Clark meant to me. Since I was two or three, I knew I wanted to work for the oceans. My family was incredibly supportive, taking me to numerous aquariums and trips to the beach, letting me decorate my room with shark posters, jaws, and sharks in jars, humoring me when I asked for a membership to the Center for Marine Conservation (now Ocean Conservancy) as a birthday present, and leading me towards scientists and pioneers in the field as my role models. Of those great science and political icons that I latched onto, Dr. Eugenie Clark was at the top of my list.

“Shark Lady,” a biography about her life and work, was the first chapter book I ever read. I taped and repeatedly watched her TV appearances. During elementary school, I wrote to tell her about my latest shark-themed science fair project and saltwater career plans. After spending a number of years buried in my graduate work and law school textbooks, my sister managed to have Dr. Clark sign two of her books for me in congratulations for completing my juris doctor in 2013. They remain among my most prized possessions.

It’s easy to understand how Dr. Clark could be such a driving force for a budding ocean scientist and advocate such as myself. She was immune to societal boundaries, building a prolific scientific career in a traditionally male-dominated field on her own terms. Dr. Clark was proof that you really could have it all; she balanced her seemingly insatiable drive for knowledge with a family and a career that took her around the world (sometimes on the back of whale sharks).

She was a powerful voice in changing the public’s perception of sharks. Long before GPS tracking was making great whites (the first of which by OCEARCH was nicknamed ‘Genie’ in Dr. Clark’s honor) and other notorious “man eater” species more accessible to the public, Dr. Clark was a strong advocate in educating people about the wonder of sharks, and we’re starting to see a real sea change in how people view and appreciate sharks. Global support is increasing for bans on shark finning, some sharks and rays finally received protections under CITES, and shark sanctuaries have been established off the coasts of Honduras, the Bahamas, and French Polynesia.

Sharks still face threats from overfishing, finning, entanglement with fishing gear (bycatch), and climate change. Thankfully, I’m certain that I’m not the only ocean advocate that Dr. Clark inspired. There are generations of scientists and policy-makers who are working for sharks and the oceans thanks to her work. Dr. Clark’s legacy will continue in the good work of others and in every shark saved thanks to her influence. She will be greatly missed.

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What’s Lurking in the Ocean’s Depths? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/29/whats-lurking-in-the-oceans-depths/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/29/whats-lurking-in-the-oceans-depths/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 17:00:53 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9419

Trick or treating in the ocean can be a matter of life or death. Meet four ocean creatures who might just surprise you!

Vampire Squid

You’ve no doubt heard of the famous vampire bat, but did you know that there’s a vampire squid? Don’t worry. It won’t fly out of the ocean to suck your blood. These cephalopods don’t even spray ink like other squids. They produce a bioluminescent mucus cloud that can glow for up to 10 minutes. They were given their names due to their blood red eyes, which can also look blue depending the lighting. Their bodies definitely reflect the gothic nature of vampires by being black or red. A web like material connects their tentacles. They can even envelop their bodies in their tentacles and webbing to shield themselves from predators.

Vampire squids live in really cold depths of the ocean with very little oxygen. This makes them far less threatening to humans than their name suggests. In order to conserve energy, they simply drift along the ocean currents and only eat dead plankton and fecal matter. Instead of fangs, vampire squids eat with their beaks.

Goblin Shark

The goblin shark is an incredibly amazing and terrifying shark. Males can grow up to 8 feet long and females can be up to 11 feet in length. They’re often a pale white color with blue fins. Their most distinctive feature is their jaws. Unlike your jaws that move up and down, their jaws can project from their mouths like the movie Alien! Goblin sharks locate their prey by using electroreceptors in the nose. Because these sharks inhabit the dark ocean depths, fishermen can sleep well at night, knowing that only a few have ever been caught.

Their range is suspected to be very wide. These bottom dwellers have been documented in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

Smallspine Spookfish

The smallspine spookfish, lives in the deep ocean. As their name suggests, they’re pale white like ghosts and have an elongated snout, which can track prey with sensory nerve endings. In fact, they sort of resemble the ghost dog from the Nightmare Before Christmas! Not many have been seen or documented because they live in extreme depths, like more than a mile below the ocean’s surface. As if they weren’t scary cool already, they also have a venomous spine. Unfortunately not much else is known about them, so they’re a regular fish of mystery.

Giant Devil Ray

The devil ray isn’t as scary as it sounds. They’re not actually named for their devilish behavior, but rather from the fins on top of their heads that resemble devil horns. The only way they might scare you is if you see a large dark shape in the water before you realize what it is! They often sport dark colors on the top of their bodies and are typically white on the bottom half. They swim using their pectoral fins, flapping them almost like wings. Giant devil rays are really gentle giants. They only feed on plankton and small fishes.

The only truly devilish thing about them is that they’re endangered. By-catch is a major threat to this species. Since they spend a lot of time close to the surface, ocean traffic and oil spills also pose serious threats to these gentle giants.

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