Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sharks: Kuwait and Canada are losing important predators

A couple of items on sharks:

Documenting the Lack of Sharks in the Arabian Gulf
Sharks have been suffering at the hands of large commercial operations to meet the demands for shark fins in the Asian markets. But they can also suffer due to ignorance and, in a sense, neglect. This is what is happening in the Arabian Sea.

An expedition, organized by the U.K.'s Shark Conservation Society in 2008, set out to document the range of shark biodiversity in the Arabian Gulf waters around Kuwait. With the discovery of oil, Kuwaiti culture has changed from fishing and pearl diving as key industries to one based entirely on the lucrative oil business. While fish are still in demand among the Kuwaiti people, there is a lack of concern or awareness as to the need for balancing marine biodiversity - in particular, maintaining healthy shark populations as a cornerstone to a healthy marine ecosystem.

In the local fish markets, sharks can be found but there is not a great demand for them. Their appearance is more one of being bycatch due to the fishing techniques commonly used by the local fishermen. Gill nets are the predominant method, which basically catch anything from edible, commercial fish to sharks to turtles, and more.

Environmental filmmaker Zeina Aboul Hosn accompanied the researchers, both on the water and in the local markets, to document the decline of sharks in the Gulf. Finally, two years later, her film is currently available for viewing on Al Jazeera.

According to, Exxon has pledged support for an educational program to increase awareness, establish community-based programs, and provide cleanup activities, which could prove beneficial to local shark populations - if there's still time. Exxon's motives, I am sure, are a mix of environmental concern, politics, and public relations. Whatever their self-serving motives, if it provides a means to educate the local populace on the importance of maintaining a balanced marine ecosystem - for sharks and other species - then it could be a worthwhile trade-off.

Read more about the state of sharks in the Arabian Gulf at the

Canada Considers Support for Great White Sharks
The Canadian government is considering placing the great white shark on its list of animals covered by Canada's Species at Risk Act. Great white sharks are known to travel as far north as Nova Scotia in the Atlantic but their numbers have been in steady decline, in line with what has been seen with many white shark populations worldwide.

Although hunting white sharks in Canada is currently illegal, by covering it under the Species at Risk Act the balance of responsibility changes slightly from something that was solely on the shoulders of the fishermen ("Do not hunt white sharks") to more involvement by the federal government ("What can we do to further protect these sharks?"). This would mean another partner in the international political arena - where worldwide policy is hammered out.

"It's really a matter of supporting other international efforts to reduce catches of great whites and somehow limit their by-catch in other fisheries,"
said Steven Campana of Nova Scotia's Bedford Institute of Oceanography.

Read more about Canada's great white sharks at CBC News.

Shark conservation is becoming more and more of a complex topic as we move beyond (but don't ignore) the barbarism and waste of shark finning and shark fin soup and focus more on the critical role these predators play in maintaining a healthy marine environment and the need for worldwide public awareness to stimulate action on local, national, and international levels.

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