Great white sharks deserve ‘endangered species’ protection

March 11, 2013 — by Michelle Leung and Carolyn Sun

Urged on by movies like “Jaws,” people have acquired an irrational fear of great white sharks, the alleged “serial killers” of the ocean. In reality, however, humans are the real predators.

Urged on by movies like “Jaws,” people have acquired an irrational fear of great white sharks, the alleged “serial killers” of the ocean. In reality, however, humans are the real predators.

Beginning in spring 2014, great white sharks in California may finally be protected under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The State Assembly’s unanimous 4-0 vote to protect these animals may take effect depending on the final decision made by the Department of Fish and Wildlife after a year of research.

Great white sharks greatly deserve this protection. National Geographic estimates that for every human killed by a shark, 25 million sharks are killed by humans.

According to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, every year, 100 million white sharks are killed for their skin, jaws, teeth, cartilage, liver oil or fins. In China, shark fin soup is a traditional yet expensive delicacy. People often eat it during large celebrations. Even in the U.S., shark fins sell for $880 a pound.

To satisfy the high demand for shark fins, fishermen hook great white sharks and, while the sharks are still alive, cut off their fins. They then proceed to toss the animals back into the ocean, where the sharks, no longer able to swim, sink to the bottom of the ocean and die a slow, agonizing death.

However terrible this fate may be, the majority of great white sharks are actually victims of bycatch, in which fishermen accidentally capture one species while hunting for other species. When fishermen use gill nets to catch large fish such as swordfish, shark pups and adults are often caught in the nets and killed with them.

This type of “accidental” death is not prevented by state law. While purposely targeting sharks is illegal, accidentally catching them alongside other fish had been acceptable according to former state law.

The new California policy would afford more protection for great white sharks, limiting the number of sharks fishermen could kill by accident. By allowing only a limited amount of deaths, the policy would encourage fishermen to be more careful.

Since sharks mature slowly and often raise only one or two pups a year, the loss of so many pups prevents the population from replenishing itself.

Shaping marine life for 400 million years, great whites are the apex predator in the ocean food chain. They strengthen prey populations by eliminating weaker animals, encouraging natural selection. Without sharks to trim the numbers of their prey, animals such as sea lions and seals will overpopulate, setting off a disruptive chain reaction throughout the ocean.

The fragile equilibrium of the ocean ecosystem needs sharks to keep it healthy.

The ocean predators may be perceived as extremely dangerous, but, according to The Mercury News, there have been only 13 documented fatalities in California caused by great white sharks since 1952. Compared to the millions of people who swim in the Pacific Ocean each year, this number proves that great white sharks are unlikely to kill humans. In fact, more people die from bee stings and dog bites than great white shark attacks.

Even though shark finning is banned in many countries, people continue to illegally trade shark fins. To help stop shark finning, one can simply spread awareness through Facebook, Twitter or any other social networks about the barbaric truth behind shark fin soup. By lowering the demand for the soup, people can help eventually stop the illegal trade.

In addition, people can also petition for their governments to follow California’s lead and help prevent endangering great white sharks; the vote in Sacramento was a result of a petition.

One can also donate to shark conservation organizations, such as Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Oceana and Shark Trust.

Sharks deserve all the protections that the government and the people can give them. With 90 percent of the world population killed and around only 350 adult great whites left in the wild, the new law could not have come at a more urgent time. Humans' stigma against sharks has almost driven the species to extinction. The least California can do is protect great whites under the Endangered Species Program.

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