14 September 2013

Shark Attack!!

How many of you saw the title and expected to read about the demise of a poor human in the mouth of a monster? It seems we are largely pre-conditioned to associate sharks with fear and menace. The movie Jaws has a lot to answer for, as does the wider media with its propensity to depict sharks as man-eaters.  The reality is that it is the sharks themselves that are under attack - by us! Yes, we, the supposedly 'civilised' human beings are systematically destroying our own planet for profit and greed and simply ignoring the consequences.  It makes me unbelievably angry and sad.

I woke up this morning looking forward to a relaxing day off work, a cup of tea in bed and something to read.  I made the mistake of turning on the wifi on my phone and was immediately confronted by a series of images that made me furious and had me jumping up to write this post.  Khareef in Dhofar has passed, the fishing boats are out at sea and yet again we are seeing hundreds and hundreds of dead sharks landed at Mirbat harbour (and no doubt elsewhere across Oman too).  It's not new, but it doesn't make it any less horrifying, particularly since many of these sharks are endangered.  It makes me want to cry.  Look at all those hammerheads! How can an endangered species be pulled from the ocean in its hundreds with apparently no regulation or consequence? When will they stop? When there're simply none left? Sharks don't stand a chance against modern fishing fleets and their overall demise may come sooner than we think judging by the quantities of juveniles that are being fished.  The problem is that sharks don't seem to illicit much sympathy in people.  They are not cute or cuddly and somehow people aren't touched by their plight in the way that they might be for other land-based species.  But whether you like them or loathe them, we NEED sharks! They maintain the health of our oceans. Without them we are ALL in trouble.  This is the message that doesn't seem to be getting through.  Many people don't like sharks, are scared of them and therefore simply don't care about their survival.  This is such a naive and ignorant outlook.  Sharks are the apex predators of the ocean and they keep other marine life in healthy balance.  Our oceans are the most important ecosystem on the planet - supplying us with food, oxygen and controlling temperature and weather.  Destroying shark populations could destroy our primary sources of food and air.  So if you care about the future and care about your children, you should care about sharks. It really is that simple.  Our very existence is dependent, at least in part, upon theirs.

So even if you can't bring yourself to care about sharks for altruistic reasons, then do it for selfish ones - to protect your own future and that of the next generation.  And before you start thinking how nice it might be to get in the ocean and not worry about sharks, let's just put that fear in perspective.  You are about 100 times more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than a shark, so watch out for those Salalah palm trees!

In 2011 there were 17 reported fatalities globally attributed to shark attacks.  In the same year 1051 people died on the roads in Oman alone.  Go figure!

I really urge any of you reading this to do whatever you can to make your voice heard on this issue. Petition the supermarkets that continue to sell shark, write to the Ministries, do anything - just don't do nothing!  The fishing industry needs regulation. Localised collapse in fisheries will not help the fishermen either, so there needs to be some real awareness and education on these issues.

Dead hammerhead sharks at Mirbat Harbour 

The next photo made me particularly sad because, whilst I am not a scientist or expert in shark identification, I could swear that those big-eyed sharks are threshers.  They are incredibly distinctive creatures and earlier this year I travelled half way around the world for the chance to be able to dive with them.  It is heartbreaking to see them dead in an Omani harbour.  Thresher sharks are globally in decline and are classified as 'vulnerable' by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Dead thresher & hammerhead sharks at Mirbat harbour

I had no idea thresher sharks even frequented Arabian waters.  As a scuba diver there are only 2 places on the planet known for thresher shark sightings.  I had to travel all the way to the Phillippines to see these amazing and graceful creatures at first-hand.  Below is a video I took whilst diving off the island of Malapascua.  Here a thresher shark is seen as it should be - in its natural habitat.

Oman was recently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world and whilst that may indeed be true for its humans, the same can not be said for its sharks!

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