The L.A. Times is reporting that California governor, Jerry Brown, has signed AB 376 (aka “Shark Protection Act”) into law. The newly signed law prohibits the possession, sale, and trade of shark fins in the State of California. The ban will go into effect on January 1, 2012.
An 18′ (5.5m) whale shark (Rhincodon typus) was found by divers off the shores of Tingloy, Batangas with its dorsal and pectoral fins sliced off, according to a news release from the World Wildlife Fund – Philippines. The whale shark, known locally as “butanding,” was still alive when the divers found it on Monday. The shark was towed to calmer waters in Caban Cove, where efforts were made to flank and support the shark, but it inevitably died the next day as a result of its injuries. Obvious knife wounds were observed around the shark’s caudal fin, as well.
According to the news release, possession or slaughter of whale sharks in the Philippines is prohibited by Republic Act No. 8550 of the Fisheries Administrative Order. Violation of this act is punishable by a maximum fine of P10,000, four years in prison, and revocation of the violator’s fishing license. A GMANews.TV article on the story notes that whale shark meat, known as “tofu meat,” sells for P360 ($8) per kg, while shark fins sell for approximately one hundred times as much at P36,000 ($800) per kg.
The WWF has officially condemned the act and is calling for “enhanced enforcement” and for the responsible parties to be prosecuted.
Scott Tucker, whom I can only describe as the Mr. Rogers (minus the cool puppets like King Friday) of public access wildlife television, was recently interviewed on Connecticut’s WTNH8 about his “Last Blue Shark” program and shark conservation, in general.
Tucker addresses the shark fin industry and the impact that is having on global shark populations. Tucker suggests ways that the audience can contribute to shark conservation efforts. Unfortunately, while discussing the shark fin industry, Tucker not only references the “100 million” magic number but also goes on to claim that 100 million is a conservative estimate and that “they believe it is even more.” While I certainly support Tucker’s good intentions, I believe that using “statistics” that have no scientific research behind them is potentially more harmful to shark conservation efforts than helpful. Within the past few months, the unsubstantiated claim of “100 million shark killed annually” has been used as a platform to discredit shark conservation efforts. In order for conservation efforts to be taken seriously, those promoting these efforts would be better served using the estimate of 26 million to 73 million sharks killed commercially each year, which is backed up by research (Clarke et al. 2006)
In addition to discussing shark finning and promoting conservation awareness, Tucker also plugs his latest episode of Expedition New England, “Last Blue Shark.” Expedition New England is a public access wildlife show which airs throughout Connecticut, as well as a few other localities (including Melbourne, Australia, believe it or not).
The Institute of Ocean Conservation Science (at Stony Brook University has posted a new video to their YouTube channel. The video was created by the American Museum of Natural History and focuses on research by the IOCS involving genetic tracking to identify the geographic origins of shark fins sold in Hong Kong. The goal of the research is aimed at aiding international trade agencies in determining how to protect fish species.
It seems the magic number of 100 million sharks killed each year gets quite a bit of use in the world of shark conservation, but is there any actual data to support this number? At least one commenter on this blog has called the number into question, which led met to start looking into the basis for the 100 million “statistic.” Other shark conservation-minded bloggers including Shark Diver’s Underwater Thrills and Luke Tipple have called the 100 million number into question this year, due to a lack of a scientific basis for the number. Despite the lack of any hard data to support the number it is widely used and accepted in the media and in many conservation efforts.
Research conducted by Shelley Clarke estimated the global number of sharks killed annually at 26 million to 73 million. Clarke’s Global Estimates of Shark Catches using Trade Records from Commercial Markets journal article published in 2006 in the Ecology Papers Vol 9 Issue 10 follows a generally accepted scientific methodology and is backed up by solid research.
While “26-73 million” might not roll off the tongue quite as easily as “100 million,” there is data to support the former, while there seems to be no solid data supporting the latter. Considering that I make a point of calling attention to instances of misrepresentation and misinformation in the media with this blog, I think it’s important to point out that the use of the 100 million number is not based on any specific scientific evidence, and I would encourage shark conservationists to reference the global estimates from Clarke’s research. At the end of the day, even the low-end estimate, from Clarke’s study, of 26 million is still alarming number of sharks being plucked from the ocean.
The other lesson to be learned from the lack of scientific data to back up the claim of 100 million sharks killed per year, is that opportunistic filmmakers will use the baseless number as springboard to devalue the entire shark conservation effort, as can be seen in the video below.
The gentlemen in the video have a point when it comes to the magic “100 million” number (and the “90% of the species” statistic), but nowhere in the video do you hear mention of the estimates from Clarke’s study, which would be far less disputable.
When it comes to shark conservation efforts, I recommend sticking with data that can be backed up by science. There’s already enough conjecture and flat-out misinformation out there without shark conservationists adding to it (as a couple of the people in the video above do a fine job in displaying).