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Good News for (Basking) Sharks

Photo by Alan James/ Naturepl.com Courtesy of BBC.CO.UK

Sharks have been in the news a lot lately. Between the shark attack in Cape Cod, the recent Jaws fest, and Discovery Channel’s 25th Annual Shark Week, it’s as if there are fins everywhere you look. For me, that’s a good thing because since I can remember, I have always found sharks fascinating. There is something intriguing about their shapes (consider the hammerhead shark, the goblin shark, the frilled shark, and the mako shark), and how each species has its own unique set of behaviors and diet.

Over the last year, ENN has published multiple articles about sharks, most of them addressing the decrease in shark populations as a result of them being slaughtered for their fins. Luckily not all shark species are in peril, in fact Basking Shark populations in British Waters are showing signs of growth after years of commercial hunting.

For those of you unfamiliar with Basking Sharks, they are the second largest species of fish on earth, second only to the whale shark, and are one of three shark species that rely on plankton as a food source. Basking sharks can be found in cold to warm temperate waters globally. Basking sharks have been heavily fished in the Atlantic Northeast, especially for their liver oil. In 1998 legislation was created in the UK to protect the Basking Shark, it is believed that over 81,000 basking sharks were killed between 1952 and 2004.

In a recent study published as a collaboration between The University of Exeter, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Wave Action, and the Marine Conservation Society in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, scientists analyzed data on reported basking shark sightings in the UK. Scientists analyzed 11,781 reports from databases generated by the Marine Conservation Society and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust during the period of 1998 to 2008.

The study found an increase in basking shark sightings, especially off South West England, Western Scotland, and the Isle of Man. The study also found an increase in proportion of medium and large sharks. This is extremely good news, and shows signs of an increasing older population of basking sharks. Basking sharks reach maturity very slowly, making this discovery extremely significant for the once over-exploited population.

This study shows that there is hope for all shark species if the proper conservation laws can be enacted and followed. Sharks are extremely important members of our Eco-system, whether they munch on fish, seals, or plankton. I think the current fascination with sharks in the media is a good thing because it exposes the myths that cause us to fear these beautiful creatures, and teaches people why shark conservation is important.

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

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