Who cares about sharks?

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This is shark week. So, I have some thoughts about sharks.

If they were lions, I’d have some good stories about the times I was nearly eaten by this or that lion. But my engagement with super predators has been mainly terrestrial. As a kid, fishing in swimming in the ocean, I’ve had a few encounters with sharks, like when fishing for mid size predators, like striped bass, among shimmering schools of mackerels. Now and then all the mackerel would give up on their shifting, roiling, herd strategy which allowed them to feed on smaller fish while at the same time avoid the bass, and switch to plan B, vamoose. One moment there are mackerel everywhere with the occasional bass flashing by. Next minute, there is nothing. And for that moment the only food in the sea is whatever is on your hook (probably a fragment of a mackerel). A certain proportion of the time, the shark that chased away the mackerel takes your bait.

I remember the first time that happened to me. I was probably around eight years old. There are usually a few old salts around any fishing pier, and there were that time. They came running over. “Eyup, you’ve hooked a dogfish, laddie. Reel it in as fast ‘you can, with luck the line will break.” But then the line doesn’t break and you pull a shark up out of the sea. “Careful, laddie, a dogfish has a spine on it, it can give you a bad gash.”

Squalus acanthias lacks anal fins and instead has spines. (Coincidence? I think not.) When cornered or beached, they arch their back and flop backwards, and in so doing, can slash up attackers. These fish have been around for several million years, being small (big ones barely get to a meter long), spiny ans slashy. In those days, if you caught one, it would be shared among the other fisherfolk as bait. Maybe chopped up for chum. I don’t think anybody ate them. These days, with the idiom “there are plenty of fish in the sea” turning rapidly in to an archaic phrase our the next generation will wonder about, spiny dogfish are probably a delicacy on some menus.

Squalus acanthias has another interesting property besides the menacing spines: they are canaries. This is one of most common species of shark in the world, but are threatened or vulnerable globally, and critically endangered in the Northeast Atlantic. Their population levels are down to less than 5% of natural in some areas. This is because the main food for Squalus acanthias in some areas are highly desired commercial fish such as salmon. We humans are directly competing with Squalus acanthias for food, and at the same time, hunting them.

We should all avoid using shark products. You can usually find out if shark material is used in the products you buy (it is not all food) by paying close attention to the labels. Obviously, you should not eat shark meat.

There are a gazillion organizations that support sharks. I have no idea which ones are good, which ones are shady. Also, at this moment of political crisis in the United States, I suspect that donations for shark supporting organizations are going to take it in the gills, as most of us donate to candidates or other causes.

If you have opinions or information about shark conservation groups that are worthy, please post that info in the comments.

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In Search of Sungudogo by Greg Laden, now in Kindle or Paperback
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