SAVE OUR SHARKS ... and SOULS
“Sharks are beautiful animals, and if you're lucky enough to see lots of them, that means that you're in a healthy ocean. You should be afraid if you are in the ocean and don't see sharks.”
Meet Cabot … He’s tall, handsome, and upwardly mobile.
Just don’t get too close.
Cabot is a white shark. He’s the first to be confirmed in the depths off the coast of Long Island, outside of New York City.
Several white sharks (also known as great white sharks) are tracked in real time using GPS by Ocearch, a data-centric organization built to help scientists collect previously unattainable ocean data. You can view the whereabouts of Cabot, Caper, Vimy, Carolina, Oscar, and many more here. Generally, they stay in the deep waters off the coasts.
While this particular “ping” may cause fear for some, it’s actually a good sign. The value and importance of sharks cannot be overstated.
Sharks are apex predators, which means they are predators at the top of the food chain, without any natural predators. Sharks are essential for maintaining balance in the fish stocks and seal populations. They cull sick or weakened fish and help ensure the survival of the fittest. Sharks are a bellwether, or indicator, species. A decline in the shark population is a warning of environmental change or harm.
We want to see great diversity within the species, too, and that’s why the 400 different known species are important indicators of ocean biodiversity. More than two dozen shark species are known to live in Long Island’s waters for a least a few months out of the year.
As Sylvia Earle, a nineteenth century scientist, alluded to, we should be concerned about the absence of sharks, not their presence.
The loss of sharks generally, and within the species itself, is a growing problem. Sharks are at risk as a result of many factors, including target fisheries, fisheries by-catch, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, trophy hunting, marine debris, ecosystem modifications, human-caused disturbances, and changes to the marine environment as a result of climate change.
One particular driver of biodiversity loss is a practice known as “shark finning.” The shark’s fin is sliced off, and the still-living creature is tossed back into the ocean. The fins are worth money and have a high value in certain cultures. Some people groups consider shark fin soup a sign of status. Others use the shark fins for medicinal purposes or as an aphrodisiac.
Given the incredible importance of sharks to the ecosystem, there are numerous international and domestic laws in place for their protection.
* One important protection for sharks is found under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). The CMS seeks to conserve terrestrial, aquatic, and avian species, including sharks, throughout their range. This is an international treaty – backed by the UN – and has a global focus. Species migrate sometimes thousands of miles. The United States is not a signatory to this agreement, but has signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks. You can read the MOU here.
* The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations also provides protection in the form of voluntary reporting and tracking. In 1998, the United States participated in the development of the FAO International Plan of Action (IPOA) for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks). The IPOA encourages all FAO members to adopt a corresponding National Plan of Action (NPOA). The United States developed its NPOA in 2001, and updated it in 2014. It calls for yearly reports to Congress. Who knew that Congress receives regular updates on sharks?
* Sharks are also protected under the Convention on International Trade of Wild Fauna and (CITES) CITES is an international agreement that seeks to prevent animals or plants from becoming extinct as a result of trade. More than 182 countries and the European Union have implemented CITES. It provides trade protections that relate to approximately 35,000 species of plants and animals, including sharks.
CITES maintains lists of animals and plants under different appendices. Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction (trade in these specimens is allowed only in exceptional circumstances). Appendix II includes species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled to prevent further threats to survival. Appendix III includes species that are threatened in at least one country, and that country has asked for assistance in controlling trade.
In 2019 alone, eighteen species of sharks and rays, threatened by the scale of international trade in their fins and meat, were included in Appendix II. Prior to that, silky sharks, thresher sharks, as well as at least five other sharks, plus nine devil ray species and all manta rays were added to Appendix II.
There are regional protections for sharks, too. These typically are categorized by fishery location.
The United States has a number of domestic protections in place, some of which fulfill its international agreement obligations under CITES and the CMS.
* One such law is the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The MSA provides broad authority to the federal government to exercise “sovereign rights and exclusive fishery management authority over all fish, and all Continental Shelf fisher resources, within the exclusive economic zone (“EEZ”), which extends from the seaward boundary of each state to 200 miles offshore. The MSA preserves the jurisdiction of states over fishery management within their boundaries.
* The Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 amended the MSA to prohibit shark finning in the United States. On January 4, 2011, the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 was signed into law, which requires that all sharks, with one exception, be brought to shore with their fins intact.
There are also state laws that protect sharks. Most relate to shark finning, and prohibit the possession and/or retention of shark fins (even if they are legally landed under the requirements of the Shark Conservation Act). Some of those states or territories include California, Northern Mariana Islands, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Washington, and Guam.
People all over the world are starting to understand that Cabot -- all 9 feet, 8 inches of him -- and his friends are necessary for a healthy ocean ecosystem, which in turn promotes a balanced global system.
Still, as important as these magnificent creatures are, they instill fear in people.
And rightly so.
They are highly intelligent, resilient (sharks have been around for more than 450 million years), and lethal, if they mistake you for food. Plus, they lurk in the depths of the ocean, which can be a terrifying place. A place where you can lose your footing. Become disoriented. Maybe even drown.
Perhaps fear is that way, too. It can take over when we’re out of our depth. It washes over us in waves, alternately pushing us out and tugging us under. It jostles us until we’re confused. Like the white shark, fear sometimes attacks us from places we cannot even see, and in the places where we’re most vulnerable.
But just like the sharks, there’s a plan for our protection. The Creator of both the shark and humankind has a plan to reconcile us back to Himself. To keep us safe and protect us from the enemy of our souls. When we’re lost in those deep, deep waters, reach for Him. Trust Him. Love Him in those depths. Perfect love drives out all fear.