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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Sharks… we need them

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Sharks have been dealt a poor hand. They are demonised by the media and film industry because that’s what sells papers and movies. It doesn’t help that most species aren’t particularly cute (case and point: the false catshark, Pseudotriakis microdon caught in Scottish waters in October 2015) so we can’t humanise them like we do with dolphins and other charming marine animals. However, sharks are absolutely vital for the health of our oceans, and in turn, the future of our planet.

Overfishing, finning, shark fishing tournaments, bycatch and longlining are all massively reducing our shark populations. Fishing practices like those encouraged by SSACN, pole and line fishing, should be the only methods used. Trawling is very destructive and unselective as the nets haul every life encountered. With longlining, boats spool out hundreds of feet of fishing line with up to 2,000 baited hooks spread along its length. With both these methods, a vast number of marine species, known as ‘bycatch’ are caught and thrown overboard dead or dying, including those listed as vulnerable, threatened or endangered. It was recently reported that thousands of spurdog are discarded into the sea dead annually in the UK. They get caught and crushed in the nets by trawlers pulling up massive catches from the depths. Bycatch amounts to up to 90% of a trawl’s haul and many of these are sharks due to their predatory nature. Global catches have increased by 300%, but much is unreported & unregulated so this figure is likely to be a lot higher. It would be great to see Scotland and the UK set an example with a drastic overhaul of fishing methods and quotas to ensure a sustainable future for UK seas.

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Education among the angling community is also crucial and organisations like SSACN are not only valuable resources for information, but are proactive in encouraging best practices for sustainable fishing. With a recent report showing horrifying pictures of 40 dead cat sharks discarded on Chesil beach, by suspected anglers, angling conservation organisations need as much support as they can get to continue their positive messages to change these practices.

The most recent and accurate report states that up to 273 million sharks are killed each year. Sharks just cannot reproduce quickly enough to keep up with the demand and the only way to stop shark extinction is to stop the trades.

To envisage the vital role sharks play in our oceans, think about a fish tank and what needs to happen if one of the fish in that tank contracts a disease. You need to remove that fish from the tank before the disease spreads. Sharks prey on the diseased, the mutated, the injured and the weak, keeping the balance of our ocean’s ecosystem in check.

Sharks are at the top of the ocean food chain and their prey includes species that eat vegetation where the majority of the ocean’s carbon is stored, within seagrass, saltmarsh and mangrove. These blue carbon ecosystems, as they are called, capture and store carbon 40 times faster than rainforests and can store the carbon for thousands of years. Removing sharks from this ecosystem allows these vegetation eaters number’s to increase and results in a release of these ancient carbons and means that less carbon can be stored.

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The oceans produce more oxygen than all the rainforests combined, provide a third of the world with food, remove half of the atmosphere’s greenhouse gases, and control our planet’s temperature and weather. Sharks and the oceans desperately need our help.

For individuals, other than ensuring best practice is used when fishing, there are easy ways to help save sharks:

  • Never buy make-up or health goods containing shark liver oil, known as squalene
  • Never buy products made of shagreen or shark leather
  • Never buy fresh shark teeth or jaws
  • Always ask what type of fish is being used for your fish and chips as restaurants / takeaways sometimes use shark a.k.a. rock salmon, rock eel, flake, huss or white fish
  • Never eat shark fin soup or support a restaurant that sells it

As a Scot living in South Africa working in shark conservation, I have a lot of work to do to change public misconception and fishing practices used here. I recently started a campaign called Keep Fin Alive featuring Fin, a hand-puppet shark on a mission to be photographed with as many people as possible holding a sign that says “I hugged a shark and I liked it… Keep Fin Alive”. He’s already been photographed with well-known actors, singers, chefs, photographers and scientists, including John Hannah, Adam Handling and Jamie Scott. The ultimate goal of the campaign is to take a light-hearted approach to help change the common misconception of sharks and drive more attention to the issues facing sharks.

Esther Jacobs Overbeeke

Shark Conservationist

Founder: Keep Fin Alive

www.facebook.com/keepfinalive
www.twitter.com/FinHugger

Esther Jacobs is a shark conservationist, originally from Scotland, now living in South Africa working with sharks and other marine life. Esther works with Oceans Research, a marine research facility in Mossel Bay, South Africa. She also runs a shark conservation campaign called Keep Fin Alive, which features a handpuppet shark called Fin, who is on a mission to be photographed with as many people as possible holding a sign that says “I hugged a shark and I liked it… Keep Fin Alive”. He’s already been photographed with lots of celebrities and scientists. The ultimate goal of the campaign is to take a light-hearted approach to help change the common misconception of sharks and drive more attention to the problems of shark overfishing, finning, shark fishing tournaments, bycatch and longlining.

Marine Life & Conservation

Review: My Octopus Teacher

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Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netflix documentary: My Octopus Teacher

My Octopus Teacher is the story of how filmmaker Craig Foster befriends a common octopus in the kelp forests off of the Cape Town coast.  Mike and I love to watch all things underwater and nature-based and so eagerly sat down to this documentary film, a new September arrival on Netflix.

Watch the trailer here:

After burning out at work Foster finds fascination and a deep connection with nature when spending time freediving at his favourite local spot.  In a sequence familiar to those who watched the “Green Seas” episode of Blue Planet 2, he comes across an octopus camouflaging itself with shells.  With his curiosity piqued, he begins to seek out the octopus on all of his dives, finding delight in its seemingly strange behaviours, learning what he can from the scientific literature and slowing working to gain the mollusc’s trust on his daily visits to her world.

My Octopus Teacher portrays a very anthropomorphised view of our subject and Foster’s relationship with her.  His conclusions tend to be more emotional than scientific and his eagerness to find similarities between himself and the octopus shows a great sentimentality.  However, you cannot help but be captivated by the incredible mutual curiosity and bond developing before you.  This relationship, and the stunning scenes of the kelp forest with its diverse inhabitants make for a deeply absorbing viewing experience.  There is some fantastic cephalopod behaviour, from the octopus adapting her hunting tactics for different prey, to strategies for outwitting predators and incredible colour and shape morphology.  Foster is also keen to point out how little we know about octopuses and that there is a great opportunity to learn something with every dive.

One of my favourite observations made by Foster at the end of the film is that by going into the water for liberation from daily life’s concerns and dramas, he realised how precious these wild places are.  As he starts to care about all the animals there, even the most minuscule, he comes to find that each one is both important and vulnerable.  Foster finds that his relationship with the octopus changes him and he feels a part of the kelp forest rather than just a visitor, an experience he then shares with his son.  To me Foster’s insight that we must connect with an environment in order to be truly motivated to protect it resonated very strongly.  For those fortunate enough to fall in love with our wilder environments and connect with them, seeing it mirrored in this documentary is quite moving.

Overall we very much enjoyed the film, especially the weird and wonderful behaviours caught on screen and the story as it unfolds.  Though our first reaction was one of pure jealousy (that Foster has such a stunning local dive spot and coastal property!) we soon moved past the envy and found My Octopus Teacher to be a very relaxing and enjoyable evening’s entertainment, which we highly recommend.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Paul Rose about the ‘For The Love of Sharks’ event this Friday (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff talks to Paul Rose about the ‘For The Love of Sharks’, an event being held online by The Shark Trust at 7pm BST on this Friday – 25th September – where Paul is a guest speaker.

You can find out more about the event which also features Scubaverse’s Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown HERE.

Visit The Shark Trust website to book tickets to the event HERE!

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