A keystone species within the ecosystem: the shark

Misconceptions about the shark

The shark is a natural essential predator in the sea ecosystem. It plays a useful part not only in the seas and the oceans but also on the Earth and the living beings including us, the human beings.

The shark maintains the balance in the seabeds by killing injured fish, disease-carrying or carnivores. If it does not play this part, there would be a multiplication of other animals and it would affect sea cycles for hundreds of millions years. Herbivores would be chased out in mass. They would not be able to assume their role of regulating the seas, reefs would muffled with the abundant vegetation. The delivery of oxygen and the absorption of carbon dioxide would not be managed by what we call ‘the second lung of the Planet Earth’. So, when we remove a link in the chain, it has an impact on the whole Planet; we have to realise this as individuals and consumers. The actions of fishing, eating are not indeed individual acts but a stance in the maintenance and the future of biodiversity.

A fishing technique : the « finning »

A particularly cruel fishing practice, the ‘finning’ is still illegal across the world and has been for a long time gone unnoticed. This method consists of taking only the shark fin before throwing back the animal at water while still alive.

The goal is to fish quickly and to not clutter entire sharks -judging useless- in order to contain more space for more shark fins. However, this act creates a severe suffering for the animal and is also a cause of death. Sharks will sink on the ocean floors without being able to swim again.

In 2003, the ‘finning’ was prohibited on high seas in the European Union. Fishermen had to keep on board the animals. Nevertheless, waiver requests allowed numerous illegal acts. Between 2012 and 2013, the European Commission has implemented a new regulation obliging to land entire sharks to avoid any illegal ‘finning’ acts.

North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission have prohibited the ‘finning’ in 2014 and the North West Atlantic Fisheries Commission have done it in 2016.

Since 2005, Costa Rica has banned this fishing technique. Several regions even outlaw the possession of sharks fin – like in California or in Hawaii in the USA- while others have created protected areas- like in the Marshall islands, in Oceania, in Honduras, in the Maldives or in Bahamas.

China, which is the main import for sharks fin, seems prepared to work in this way. Nonetheless, the demand is still high and the illegal fishing remains even within protected wildlife sanctuaries. Intensive shark fishing endangered this species -fishing has reduced shark population by 90% in several years- whether it is through the ‘finning’, longline fishing or any other fishing method. This type of fishing has also a negative impact on the good ecosystems function.

Shark attacks ?

Shark has been seen as a dangerous animal for the human beings for years. This picture, stressed with various movies, has become a real plague for this animal. In reality, deadly shark attacks do not surpass the dozen.

It is more likely to get killed by lightning statistically than by a shark attack. It is especially the responsibility of each individual to not put oneself voluntarily in a dangerous situation by going to prohibited areas.

Sharks have no intention to attack the humans. There can be potentially different factors for shark attacks like the warming waters due to global warming. When there is an increase of water temperature, sharks can indeed change their habits and swim in colder areas. In 2003, Yann Perras, windsurfer, was attacked by a shark. He still wanted to see this protected species as he claimed in his statement published by ASPAS (French Animal Protection Organisation):

I lost one leg after a bitting. I have refused to let this personal tragedy fuel up this misplaced fear for these animals. On the contrary, I would like to highlight cruel and destructive fishing practices. My testimony aims to arouse concern in advocating the end of finning and the establishment of fishing quotas. The Reunion island has decided to authorise ‘punitive’ fishing. I do not think that it is a sound and useful decision. It goes against the message that I would like to share: basically, the shark is not a dangerous animal, only several circumstances can be dangerous. So, the human beings need to respect conditions to swim safely.

How can we help protecting the sharks around the world?

There are over 350 shark species. A vast majority of these shark populations have died or are endangered. Sharks become sexually mature belatedly.

For example, the male white shark, can conceive from the age of 10. The female white shark, ovoviviparous, creates eggs within its uterus and gives birth to a litter of baby sharks after a gestation between 7 months to 2 years.

Overfishing do not consider the sharks age or their survival rates and provoke a decrease of the shark species. They do not have time to reproduce. It affects their population and the ecosystem that depends upon it.

. Do not buy products made out of sharks

. Support organisations that fight for the protection of sharks like:





Find out more information and other articles like “Wilson”, our abandoned shark in the l’EVI MAG’ illustré (in french) !