Shark Pups: How We're Losing Baby Sharks
Sharks are disappearing from the oceans, and shark pups are in more danger than ever.
According to the WWF, “Up to 100 million sharks and rays are caught each year across the globe, whether on purpose in targeted fisheries or by accident, as bycatch, in fisheries targeting other species.” Unmanaged overfishing and the absence of a limit to catches all account for these numbers.
Shark reproduction is still a wonder to many researchers. These ocean giants do not mate under the public eye, and they sure hide their pups well. But one thing is for sure: it takes a long time for them to make babies. Yet, with millions of sharks dying every year, along with other endangered marine species, the future seems bleak for shark pups.
But why should you care? Would it not be nice if there were fewer sharks in the seas? We can surf without worries of getting eaten by one.
That’s what you are thinking. On the contrary, you should care because sharks are more than animals you should fear for and more than a protein in your soup or dumpling. They play a significant role in ecology and our oceans’ biodiversity.
In this article, you will learn critical information about sharks and their pups so that you may help their future.
- What Makes Sharks Vulnerable?
- How Do Sharks Reproduce?
- Shark Pups Are Cannibals
- Baby Sharks Are Independent
- Warmer Oceans Make Malnourished Shark Pups
- Why Are Sharks Important?
- How Do We Save Shark Pups?
What Makes Sharks Vulnerable?
People see sharks as mighty ocean creatures—scary, invulnerable, and strong. That is why many stay away from the sea because they do not want to encounter one and be its next meal. But, newsflash: “Sharks do not want to attack us. We are not a shark’s natural food, in fact, they don’t like the taste of us.” according to Anna Breytenbach, a professional animal communicator.
On another note, sharks were invulnerable. They could survive mass extinctions, and some species can even live up to more than 100 years old. Some, like Greenland sharks, can even live up to 500 years! But that was before. Now, they are highly vulnerable and may become extinct in the future. BBC reports, “three-quarters of the species studied are now threatened with extinction.”
Here are some facts and reasons that will make you understand why shark populations are declining:
How Do Sharks Reproduce?
You may be wondering, ‘how do sharks mate?’ You can compare sharks’ mating practices to a one-night stand. There is little courtship happening, and the male shark flees after doing his part. Meanwhile, the female shark does all the following steps alone.
There are over 500 species of sharks, and we are discovering more every day. With such broad variation, it is apparent why not all mothers carry their shark pups the same way. Unlike humans, sharks have different ways of giving birth.
According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society, one-third of shark species lay eggs or are oviparous. There are also viviparous sharks or those that carry their babies throughout the gestation periods and give birth to live shark pups. Viviparity is a popular birth method for larger shark species. Lastly, many sharks are ovoviviparous, which involves the first two methods—they produce eggs that hatch in the womb then give birth to live pups.
Now, here’s the problem: a shark’s gestational process can take up to two years. Some frilled sharks can even be pregnant for 3.5 years. If you compare that to the number of sharks people catch every year, you will understand why sharks disappear from our oceans.
Shark Pups Are Cannibals
With hundreds of shark species found in every body of water in the world, you might think that it is enough to counteract their future extinction. However, that is not the case.
Sharks can lay one to 100 eggs, yes. But not all of these babies become shark pups. Most of them become a feast for hungry predators, especially if the mother is an oviparous shark. Some do not even make it out of the womb alive because their siblings already ate them.
Baby sharks do eat other baby sharks if they are ovoviviparous shark pups. For these babies, the yolk in their eggs is their primary source of nutrition. When one finishes their yolk sac, they turn to the other eggs around them, hence the intrauterine cannibalism or eating other eggs in the womb (i.e., their siblings). So, only a few survive out of a hundred eggs, but that does not end their demise.
Baby Sharks Are Independent
If humans care for their young, sometimes even beyond their maturing age, sharks do not. As soon as the baby sharks are out of the womb, whether the mother was oviparous, viviparous, or ovoviviparous, they are to fend for themselves.
A sharks’ maternal instinct is not as extreme as a human’s. But this is because they already gave the nourishment their pups need inside the womb or through the yolks. Also, shark pups are independent, especially ovoviviparous shark pups. They swim away from their moms as soon as they are out of the womb—probably scared that mama will eat them. From then on, it is up to them to avoid predators and how they will find food.
Again, humans catch hundreds of sharks and rays each year. Whether this is unintentional or not, it does not matter. It still adds to the statistics. And this problem with overfishing is one of the reasons why shark pups are in more danger than ever before.
Boris Worm, a marine ecologist from Dalhousie University in Halifax, says to The Guardian, "Biologically, sharks simply can't keep up with the current rate of exploitation and demand. Protective measures must be scaled up significantly in order to avoid further depletion and the possible extinction of many shark species in our lifetime."
Even if people stay away from sharks, they can still cause the extinction of the species. After all, we are eating their food. Overfishing removes small fishes from the ocean, rattling the food chain, hence less food for larger marine animals, like baby sharks, to survive.
Warmer Oceans Make Malnourished Shark Pups
Global warming also accounts for the decreasing number of sharks. Studies say that it degrades the waters’ quality, affecting the development of shark pups and their future eating habits. Simply put, it makes undernourished shark pups, making it more challenging for them to transition into adulthood, especially with other threats considered.
Carolyn Wheeler’s research found that the increasing temperatures affect some sharks’ growth, development, and physiological performance. The hotter the conditions, the faster everything happened, which could be a problem for the sharks.
After studying the embryos and hatchling, Wheeler said in a press release that “The hotter the conditions, the faster everything happened, which could be a problem for the sharks. The embryos grew faster and used their yolk sac quicker, which is their only food source as they develop in the egg case. This led to them hatching earlier than usual.” It means that shark pups are smaller and feed right away, even if they do not have enough energy.
Another study suggests that sharks lose their appetites because of ocean acidification. The rising carbon dioxide levels in the oceans weakened sharks’ odor-tracking behaviors, robbing them of their sense of smell for food.
As quoted in Phys.org, Danielle Dixson, an assistant professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, said, "The sharks' tracking behavior and attacking behavior were significantly reduced," then added that “Sharks are like swimming noses, so chemical cues are really important for them in terms of finding food." In the experiment, the researchers noticed the sharks reducing their “bumps and bites on the bricks,” seeming as if “they’re uninterested in their food.”
Baby sharks become malnourished and then lose their appetites due to ocean acidification. They do not have enough energy to look for food, and they are not interested in their food. Again, without food, there is too little to survive on. Add that to all the other factors like how much time it takes for them to reproduce, cannibalism, independence, and overfishing, no wonder why we are losing our sharks.
Why Are Sharks Important?
- Sharks play a crucial role in marine ecology.
- Sharks Help Climate Change
One kind of shark, tiger sharks, loves shallow seagrass meadows. They are like the sea patrol, controlling crowds and preventing overgrazing by turtles and dugongs. It results in flourishing seagrass that helps sequester carbon from the atmosphere 35 times faster than terrestrial rainforests.
- Sharks Give Us Oxygen
Believe it or not, but sharks can help in producing half of the oxygen the Earth needs. They do so by aiding in the growth of phytoplankton, which are the ones who are responsible for making the oxygen.
Large shark species that dive deep into the ocean to feed defecate as they return to the surface. They can bring back essential nutrients and elements for phytoplanktons, which also help build underwater food chains. With fewer sharks in the ocean, we do not only disrupt the food chain, but we are also losing oxygen supply.
- Sharks Are Great For The Economy
Overexploitation did drive sharks away from the seas. But responsible tourism makes them thrive. After all, managements preserve their life by assisting in their growth and health. In return, shark tourism is a multi-billion industry.
The WWF reports that“every year, around 600,000 shark divers travel the world to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural surroundings.” Shark tourism brought $32.5 million to the Australian economy alone in 2014. Meanwhile, in the Maldives, shark divers accounted for $65 million in their local economy in 2016.
- Sharks Play A Key Role In The Blue Circle Of Life
Sharks do not only provide benefits to ecology during their lifetime. Even after they perished, they still contributed to marine ecosystems. Off the coast of Angola, scientists found that deep-sea scavengers feast on the “carcasses of a dead whale shark and large rays resting peacefully at 3,937 feet,” just like how smaller predators make a meal out of dead lions—a natural blue circle of life.
To put it simply, sharks are apex predators, high up in the food chain that feeds on those below. While doing so, they help regulate and maintain the balance of marine ecosystems and diversify the ecosystem, hence why sharks are important.
How Do We Save Shark Pups?
We can do our part in saving our marine bros by donating through NGOs, using eco-friendly materials when surfing, cleaning up after ourselves when we're at the beach, and not throwing our trash in the ocean.
The government and non-governmental organizations are already doing their part in shark conservation. They protect migratory species by improving cross-border protection, help create stricter guidelines for fishing, and help preserve the marine ecosystems that are already thriving in some areas.
You can either donate through NGOs and take part in their actual projects to help protect shark pups. But one easy way to do so is to become a responsible surfer by getting eco-friendly surfing essentials from us, Wave Tribe or joining our Heal The Oceans campaign.
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