Professor Robert Law, bead of Marine Biological Ltd, which monitors the ocean environment, and a leading governmental advisor on marine pollution, is claiming today that sharks are in danger of extinction. Professor Law’s main point is that worldwide the number of sharks of most species is dropping rapidly. Exact figures about these elusive creatures are hard to come by, but the general consensus is that certain kinds of shark population have decreased by up to 75% in the last 30 years.
The great white and tiger sharks have seen the greatest drop in numbers, down by as much as 90% from 20 years ago. Smaller sharks are also under threat – the populations of makos, hammerheads, even common dogfish are being decimated. Estimates suggest that British dogfish numbers have halved in the last decade alone.
And this decline is worldwide. The big sharks congregate mainly in the warmer waters of the Pacific and Caribbean, but cold water areas such as the Atlantic and the North Sea have their own species and these too are in danger. The reasons for the decline in numbers are not hard to see. One huge reason is the continued demand for shark fins in South-East Asia, where they are used to make soup and as ingredients in medicines. Most sharks that are killed commercially in the West are processed for the oil that comes from their livers. Sharks are also victims of fear, since they are routinely killed by fishermen when they are landed with other catches.
“Sharks have no protection.” writes Professor Law. “They are not outside the law – most countries have laws protecting the species which are most under threat – but the problem is that people are so frightened of them that the laws are not enforced. There are perhaps five marine biologists in Europe actively involved in attempts to save shark species, although there is greater awareness in America and Australia. Sharks have an image problem. Nobody associates them with needing to be saved simply because they are such fearsome predators.”
But the market demand for shark products has always been high. The real reason why shark stocks have plummeted is the same as the reason why other fish species are in decline. Modern fishing technology – the use of sonar and deep-netting in particular – has made the shark’s natural defences useless.
Charles Starkling, author of Jaws: the Myth of the Sea, agrees. “The equipment the shark has to defend itself is perfect in the right environment. Against other sharks, humans, fish, all the normal dangers, the shark is virtually invincible.” But Starkling adds that no animal, no matter how large and dangerous on its own, can fight against steel nets. “The nets that are put out to protect swimmers don’t just keep sharks away. They kill them. A shark which is caught in a net dies, because sharks can’t stop swimming. Without a swim bladder, the shark drowns as soon as it stops moving.” Starkling says it is common practice for sharks to have their fins cut off by fishermen and then to be dropped back in the ocean alive. They die by drowning.
And the ecology of sharks makes them especially vulnerable. Sharks are top-of-the-chain predators, feeding on virtually anything else in the water, and consequently they are quite rare. For every million herring in the Atlantic, there will be one mako. Sharks are solitary and territorial, with unimaginably vast areas. The larger sharks also reproduce slowly, giving birth to live young one at a time.
Most people are afraid of sharks, but without good reason. You are many thousands of times more likely to be run over or die from smoking – even death by lightning or drowning in your bath are more likely – than to be attacked by a shark, and even then most shark attack victims survive. Recent research suggests that most sharks kill by mistake after taking an exploratory bite – humans are not sharks’ chosen food. But time is running out for these ancient predators of the deeps. When their populations have gone below a certain level, no amount of legislation will protect them. Professor Law points out that most sharks cannot be kept in zoos, like tigers, and that once they are gone they will be gone forever. He counsels that sharks urgently need protection by law if they are to continue to grace the seas.
Complete the summary below. Choose your answers from the box below the summary and write them in boxes 1 – 8 on the answer sheet. There are more words than spaces, so you will not use all the given words.
Sharks Face Extinction
All over the world, shark populations are in dramatic (1)………………………. In warm and cold waters, many shark species have been reduced to a (2)……………………….. of their former size. This has come about largely as a result of the demand for shark products in the medical and catering industries, but sharks are also left biologically (3)…………………………., since they lack swim bladders and can drown if they are (4)…………………………… And the shark’s reputation means it does not enjoy the (5)……………………………… of other endangered species; conservation laws are often (6)……………………….. All these factors are compounded by recent (7)……………………….. in the techniques of fishing. Sharks are comparatively rare, because of their status as (8)……………………….., and reproduce slowly. This makes them even more exposed to the dangers of overfishing. With stocks already very low, the time for full legal protection has come.
Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 1? In boxes 9 -15 on your answer sheet write
YES if the statement agrees with the information
NO if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this in the passage.
9 We know precisely how much shark populations have declined.
10 The biggest reason for the decline of sharks is the demand for shark fins.
11 People are afraid to implement regulations safeguarding sharks.
12 The shark is able to protect itself in all circumstances.
13 Sharks live in groups.
14 Shark attacks are a statistically improbable cause of death for humans.
15 Sharks will become extinct in the near future.