Sharks are some of the most diverse and enigmatic creatures that occupy the vast sea. Often we hear about shark spotting around the globe, but sharks are also in Canadian waters. Twenty-eight species of shark have been reported in Canadian waters; fourteen of which can be found in the Pacific and twenty in the Atlantic and Arctic. Although they pose very little threat to humans, many people still fear sharks and are causing their rapid decline.
Sharks are among the most threatened marine vertebrates on Earth. Most sharks are vulnerable to overexploitation and according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, it is estimated that 60% of pelagic sharks are currently threatened with extinction.
Since many of these species are top predators, there may be consequences for marine ecosystems. Bycatch (or unintentional catch) is perhaps the single most significant threat to sharks in Canadian waters. Unsustainable fishing practices and the unintentional capture of sharks in fisheries have caused shark populations to dramatically decline in Canada.
Shark finning (the removal of fins from the shark and tossing the remainder at sea) is another threat to shark populations. While it is illegal in Canada to only bring shark fins back to shore, there have been unsustainable shark products being imported into the country. The malevolent shark fin trade is considered to be the primary driver in shark exploitation globally.
What's Canada doing to protect these majestic creatures?
Environmental and wildlife organizations (including WWF Canada) are working with partners to address the main priorities for shark conservation in Canada. During the Atlantic Shark Forum and the Pacific Shark Workshop, important issues were identified that could advance conservation of sharks and inspire collaboration between different interest groups.
WWF is also working with partners from industry, government and academia to find practical, on-the-water solutions. They are working with fishermen and fisheries to reduce shark bycatch, increase shark identification, and develop the best catch, handle and release methods.
Environmental scientists and wildlife groups around the world have been calling for an end to shark finning. Increased awareness of endangered sharks species have prompted some countries, including the Honduras and Bahamas, to ban shark fishing altogether. In 2012, Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang advocated to put an end to shark finning. He proposed that Vancouver and its neighboring municipalities put an end to a shark finning, and joining other Canadian cities like Toronto and Nanaimo, along with several U.S states.
What can I do about shark population declines?
I suggest getting involved and not purchasing shark products to combat the decline of sharks, both in your country and globally.
Get involved with the cause
Get involved with various organizations that work to protect sharks. Greenpeace and WWF are just a few!
Refrain from purchasing shark products
Shark fins are not the only reason why sharks are captured. Local restaurants, grocery stores, health food stores, beauty salons, and even pet stores may sell shark. You may even be consuming shark and not realizing it! Here’s a list of uses for shark in commercial products. Understanding what products contain sharks is a great way to reduce demand for shark catch.
We are all responsible for the safety and conservation of all life on Earth. Sharks are an essential predator, which contributes to ocean ecosystems in ways that some fish cannot. It's in our best interest to ensure their safety and protection.