Sharks are among the ocean’s top predators and because of this we often characterize them as blood-thirsty killing machines. Sadly, it seems that in the grand scheme of things, sharks are not, in fact, the most dangerous species in the oceans. No, that is a title held by no other than us.  Every single year, 100 million sharks are pulled for the ocean either for the shark fin trade or as bycatch from the commercial fishing industry. As a result of these devasting losses, the world’s shark population is teetering on the brink of extinction – and we are to blame.

This is a serious problem for the oceans, and for us, because sharks play a vital role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems. When sharks disappear, smaller prey species that feed on sea grass and other greens increase exponentially, inevitably wiping out aquatic fauna, causing oxygen levels to drop and ultimately leading to the collapse of marine populations. Removing sharks starts a domino effect, and if nothing is done to lessen the number of sharks lost, then eventually all of the dominos will be face down.

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Knowing this, you would think that we would be doing everything we can to preserve the world’s sharks … but this is hardly the case. While there are many organizations making progress in lessening the demand for shark fin soup and other products that fuel the trade, there are other threats to sharks, that are well … just plain ridiculous.

We recently brought attention to “Monster Shark” hunting competitions (done in the name of conservation) on the East Coast of the U.S., and it looks like this phenomenon is not isolated here – but a similar sort of activity takes place in Canada as well!

Shark derbies, as they’re known, happen in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia and have taken place every August since 1993. In these competitions, anglers pay for a chance to hook a shark and can win prizes as well. Blue sharks are the primary targets of these competitions, as they are most abundant in the region, although thresher sharks and endangered porbeagles have also been caught. According to a report in The Star, “In 2004, a massive 1,085-pound shortfin mako shark was landed in Yarmouth, N.S., where it was hauled away with a forklift, its gaping jaws showing rows of hooked teeth.”

shark_derbies_20160801Canadian Press

Understandably, these competitions have garnered much criticism, but officials claim that they are crucial to help official scientists collect data on sharks – as they are no longer “commercially fished.” Because, you know, the best way to get scientific data on an animal is to have everyday fishermen pay catch them, haul them on land, and hope they survive the ordeal long enough to tag them and release them back to the wild. For science, of course.

According to The Star, “Last year, 460 participating fishermen caught 49 sharks in total at Lockeport, Riverport, Louisbourg and Petit-de-Grat, according to statistics compiled by the department, which maintains ownership of the carcasses.”

In this case, it seems as if none of the 49 captured sharks were released. And while Marilyn Sweet, a senior adviser at the federal Fisheries Department, says derbies account for only three percent of the blue sharks killed by fishing-related activities in Canadian waters, these events are still problematic.

Perpetuating the idea that sharks are ours for the taking, that we can conquer them, and use them to win prizes for competitions trivializes the fact that we need this species. Without sharks, the future of our oceans is uncertain at best, and given the rate at which sharks are taken from the seas due to human activities, it is incredibly dangerous to see these recreational competitions as “harmless.”

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You can help put an end to this by sharing this post and encouraging others to learn about sharks and the important role they play in our world.

To learn more about sharks and how to protect them, check out these resources:

Lead image source: /Shutterstock

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