Shark Awareness Day 14th July
Today is Shark Awareness Day, a day dedicated to busting the harmful myths about sharks and raising awareness for their plight. When most people hear the word shark, a great big jaw-sy creature comes to mind, but there is so much more to these complex cartilaginous fish then what we see in the movies.
For starters did you know that there are over 400 different species of shark in the world? Ranging from the Dwarf Lantern Shark to the gigantic Whale Shark, they are a diverse group of creatures who inhabit everywhere from the deep ocean to the shallow seas. Sharks have been around for millions of years which means they were swimming our seas before dinosaurs roamed the land. Some Sharks like Whale and Basking Shark are filter feeders, dining on small plants and creatures we commonly know as plankton. Others, such as the Great White Shark, will feast on a variety of prey, such as fish, seals, sharks, rays and even dead whale!
Despite sharks holding the title of apex predator, shark populations around the world have plummeted by 90% in 50 years. Millions and millions of sharks are killed by humans every single year. Many are caught for their fins, others for their squalene, teeth and meat. Accidental bycatch by fisheries is also a major threat to these vulnerable creatures, who are very slow to reproduce. Currently, we are losing sharks at a rate where they cannot replenish themselves. Luckily, all hope is not lost. By creating Marine Protected Areas and better science-based policies, we can give shark populations an opportunity to recover. This is vital for the health of our oceans, as sharks are top predators who assist in keeping the ecosystem balanced.
Nature’s Valley is situated in between two Marine Protected Areas, and we are lucky to have several shark species in the area. The Spotted Gully Sharks have become a famous feature within the valley, with visitors travelling to town for the opportunity to swim with these beautiful Hound sharks. Great White Sharks also cruise by, with sightings of these ocean voyagers increasing along this stretch of coast over the past few years. In 2002, Nature’s Valley also had a very unusual stranding when a Megamouth Shark washed out onto the beach. This species was only discovered in 1976, with only around 100 sightings of this elusive elasmobranch since it’s discovery.
In previous years, Natures Valley Trust has dabbled in the shark world, getting involved in collecting egg cases from smaller sharks and skates to gain a greater understanding of these species. One of our former MSc. student, Lisa, was so taken by sharks that she went on to found Elmo Africa, an amazing citizen science project monitoring elasmobranch (shark and ray) populations throughout South Africa.
Currently, our efforts are centered around educating fishermen and the public about sharks. Often times, smaller shark species are caught and discarded because they are seen as competitors or a nuisance to those out fishing. These species generally feed on bottom dwelling creatures which means that although they may try to take bait, they are not competing for the same resources. We believe that by educating the public we can change the perspective and behavior of fishermen. By making the practice of fishing more sustainable, we hope to ensure that sharks will be swimming along our shores for many eons to come.