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Save the Sharks? How Negative Perceptions of Sharks Hinders Conservation

By Stephanie Reifenberg

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Sharks constitute the largest predatory fish in the ocean, with no natural marine predators of their own. Yet one visitor species to the ocean realm does significantly predate on sharks: humans. While the overexploitation of oceanic fish and marine mammals is widely recognized, the drastic decline in the number of sharks throughout the world receives less recognition. There are two primary drivers of shark population declines: shark fishing and incidental by-catch. Due to the consistently high monetary value of shark fins in many international cultures of consumption, the harvest levels have remained high. The incidental bycatch of sharks is not always reported and these bycatch species are often used in products and mislabeled as other ocean fish. The large industries that benefit from this income, like those of big oil, have greater political power than the scientists wishing to contest these issues (Friedrich et al. 2014). Both an increased attention to shark attacks and the character of shark attacks—in particular, the strength and aggression of sharks—has resulted in a highly unfavorable public perception of sharks as nothing more than dangerous killers. At the same time, however, interest in the aggression of sharks has also fostered scientific curiosity about the unseen aspects of a shark’s life. Increasing scientific interest in the life of sharks has led to expanding research programs that have generated a great deal of insight into the migration patterns, feeding habits, reproductive processes, and many other characteristics of these species (Simpfendorfer et al. 2011).
In the case of the shark, it is evident that there is controversy surrounding the species and the ways in which we should conserve them, if at all. Regulations are in place in some countries to prohibit purely shark finning in hopes of keeping the shark whole yet the demand for shark fins and shark products is currently high enough that the regulations in place are not affecting the trade. The international community has implemented two non-binding legal documents that address trade and conservation of endangered and migratory species. Neither requires that signatory countries make any changes to the way that they conduct business in the oceans on a daily basis, only urging that countries put forth their own efforts on a national level. These treaties and regulations will not have positive affects unless cultures throughout the world change the way they view sharks. Increasing knowledge base about the impact shark depletion has on the marine environment while connecting this issue to human interests within global oceans can increase the number of shark activists. In order to halt or slow the declining rate of shark populations, the general perception of sharks must change. If these species are to remain key species in their ecosystems without depleting in numbers, the perception that they are monsters worthy of eradication should no longer exist. In order to further conservation, efforts must be taken to make shark fin soup unappetizing and portray sharks in a positive light. Conservation efforts need to become a priority for marine scientists, governments, and those who value sharks for their intrinsic or monetary value. Only through government and public effort can these actions prevent shark species from becoming endangered or extinct.


Katie Carroll

Date 2016
Pages 49
Publisher Brandeis University
Department School of Arts and Sciences
Degree Bachelor of Arts
Language English
University Brandeis University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Animals in culture
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Conservation
  5. Fish
  6. Marine animals
  7. Nature
  8. oceans
  9. perceptions
  10. sharks
  11. Wild animals
  12. wildlife conservation