Sharks are one among the many apex predators of oceans. Yet, not even that fact can save them from the inevitable consequences of human actions. Since the 1970s, their numbers have dropped by over 70%, and this figure is bound to increase given the pace at which human advancement in the context of environmental disregard is taking place.
Are sharks important components of the marine ecosystem?
Indubitably, sharks are as important as any other organism in the world. Imagine a world where they don’t exist at all. Organisms present at lower trophic levels in a food chain multiply beyond the capacity of the environment. The reason? One of their significant natural predators no longer exists. And the result? Disaster. Lower trophic levels start competing among themselves for food, and greater competition will eventually force them too to disappear. We’ll have successfully killed two birds with one stone.
Whilst sharks help in regulating the abundance of their prey, they also exert a certain amount of control over them with respect to aspects like distribution and behavior. For instance, their presence intimidates animals like turtles. This prevents from overgrazing from a single area of seagrass, thereby also protecting other organisms that live in that habitat.
Ultimately, oceans are empty without sharks.
The case of the Arabian Sea
India is the second-largest shark-fishing nation in the world. However, while sharks are being overfished and pushed towards the brink of extinction throughout the world, the Arabian Sea region has been shining the red signal for a long period of time. Over 50% of the shark species found here are threatened with extinction due to several reasons. While several governmental measures to protect sharks have been enforced (such as prohibition of fishing certain protected shark types or the banning of import or export of shark fin), Indian overfishing has been one of the leading reasons behind the decline of shark populations in the Arabian Sea. Gill nets, long lines, trawls, etc. are dragged through oceans in order to catch large numbers of fish, and sadly, sharks fall prey to this.
Pollution, coastal development, global warming, etc. – all these do impact sharks adversely. However, topping this list of reasons behind shrinking shark populations are fisheries. Be it for making products such as boots and bags, or to consume their meat, overfishing is a serious concern for shark populations as they grow slowly and produce few young, making them particularly vulnerable to extinction.
The notion that sharks are monstrous bloodthirsty animals is an encumbrance that needs to be tackled, because the harsh truth is that it is we who are “monsters” that have begun an unfair and endless war against them, as well as the environment as a whole.
“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.” – Sylvia Earle