Nov 23
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In the News: Shark finning loophole to be closed

European Union politicians have voted overwhelmingly to close a loophole that allows sharks to be slaughtered for their fins.

Photo of fisherman holding dorsal fin cut from scalloped hammerhead

Fisherman holding dorsal fin cut from scalloped hammerhead

The vote means that the shocking practice of slicing the fins off live sharks and discarding their bodies at sea will be outlawed, ending a loophole that rendered a nine-year-old finning ban effectively useless.

EU companies catch sharks in the Atlantic, Indian, Mediterranean and Pacific Oceans, and the EU is one of the largest exporters of shark fins to Asia. The fins are used to make shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy in some countries.

Photo of great hammerhead swimming up from seabed

The great hammerhead, classified as Endangered by the IUCN, is just one species in demand for its fins

Despite a ban on shark finning in 2003, a loophole allowed companies with freezer vessels to apply for special permits enabling them to continue fishing for shark fins if they landed the fins separately from the sharks’ bodies. The issuing of these permits unfortunately became standard practice, meaning companies could easily get around the ban.

Sharks under threat

Tens of millions of sharks are killed every year to meet the increasing demand for shark fin soup, despite many species being classified as threatened by the IUCN. Conservationists have welcomed the EU vote on finning, but warn that more still needs to be done to save sharks.

Photo of whale shark kept in shallow water by fishermen until it is ready to be slaughtered

Whale shark being kept in shallow water by fishermen until it is ready to be slaughtered

Parliament’s overwhelming support for strengthening the EU finning ban represents a significant victory for shark conservation in the EU and beyond,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation at the Shark Trust. “Because of the EU’s influence at international fisheries bodies, this action holds great promise for combating this wasteful practice on a global scale.”

According to Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, who has campaigned for years for the strengthening of the finning ban, “Shark finning is not only immoral but it is threatening the very survival of many native European species. It is astonishing to think that one-third of European sharks are classed as under threat – something I hope will now change.”

Photo of oceanic whitetip shark, anterior view

The oceanic whitetip shark is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN

Groups campaigning for the conservation of sharks will now turn their attention to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which is meeting in March next year to consider proposals from the EU and US to list commercially valuable but threatened shark species. Listing these species on CITES would mean that international trade in the sharks should be carefully monitored and controlled, or may be completely banned.

Read more on this story at The Guardian – EU to close shark finning loophole.

Find out more about shark conservation at The Shark Trust, Save our Seas Foundation and the IUCN Shark Specialist Group.

View photos and videos of sharks on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Nov 17
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Endangered Species of the Week: Great hammerhead

Species: Great hammerhead  (Sphyrna mokarran)

Great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) photo

Great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The great hammerhead can sometimes be cannibalistic, with larger adults preying on juveniles.

The great hammerhead is found in warm temperate and tropical waters around the world. During summer, these sharks migrate towards the poles in search of cooler waters. A true ocean predator, the great hammerhead preys on stingrays, groupers, small, bony fish, crabs, squid, other sharks and lobsters. Feeding mainly at dusk, the great hammerhead locates prey using an electro-sensory system which can sense the weak electric field produced by all living organisms.

Although not fully understood, the hammer is thought to help the shark scan larger areas of the ocean floor for food, and that it maximises the area of the sensory organs (known as the ampullae of Lorenzini) that can detect chemical, physical and thermal changes in the water, as well as electric fields.

The great hammerhead is threatened by overfishing. Its fins are used for shark fin soup, liver oil for vitamins, skin for leather, and its meat for fishmeal. Fortunately, the increasing recognition of these threats has led to the implementation of finning bans by fishing states in the U.S.A., Australia and the European Union. Bycatch limits for sharks in the South African longline fishery are also helping to conserve this endangered species.

Find out more about hammerhead sharks on the BBC Nature Website.

See videos and images of the great hammerhead on ARKive.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Researcher

Mar 14
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In the News: Camera traps prove useful in marine studies

Remote camera traps are now being used underwater to study shark behaviour for conservation research.

Caribbean reef shark image

The Caribbean reef shark has a relatively short, broadly rounded snout

From land to sea

During the last decade, camera traps have become a popular tool with biologists and conservationists to monitor land-based wildlife, particularly threatened and elusive species such as the snow leopard. Now, this technology has been put to use in an entirely different realm – the oceans.

Sharks, like their feline counterparts, are threatened top predators, so between 2005 and 2010, a team of marine biologists from New York’s Stony Brook University deployed underwater video camera traps in Belize to monitor the population of Caribbean reef sharks found there.

The idea behind the baited camera traps, nicknamed ‘chum cams’, was to find out whether Marine Protected Areas, where fishing is entirely prohibited, are home to more sharks than non-protected areas. In total, 200 cameras were placed both inside marine reserves and in fishing zones in the Caribbean Sea.

Caribbean reef shark image

Bony fish and large crustaceans are among the preferred prey species of the Caribbean reef shark

Feeding on film

The smell of the bait, or ‘chum’, attracted sharks to the camera traps, which enabled scientists to record, count and compare the shark populations in two different marine reserves, Glover’s Reef and Caye Caulker, with those found in two fishing zones.

According to the research, published in the journal PLoS One, sharks were caught on film at nearly four times as many camera sites within the marine reserves as in non-protected areas. Data from tagged sharks also revealed that many sharks remain in the protected areas year-round.

Although we know that relatively sedentary reef fish and lobsters benefit from marine reserves, this study now presents visual proof that large, active sharks are also dramatically more abundant inside these protected areas, too,” said Mark Bond, lead author of the paper and doctoral student at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science.

These areas provide the sharks and other coral reef species a respite from fishing, which means decreased fishing mortality for the sharks and more prey for them to eat.

Caribbean reef shark image

Caribbean reef shark injured by a fishing hook

Sharks at risk

In recent decades, populations of many shark species have suffered steep declines, with the lucrative trade in fins for shark fin soup being a key contributor. The Caribbean reef shark, which is intensively fished and is also often caught as bycatch, is currently listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.

Our study demonstrates that marine reserves can help protect shark species that live on coral reefs. Moreover, the use of underwater video monitoring provides us with an excellent tool to determine if populations are recovering and thriving inside these reserves,” concludes co-author Ellen K. Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science.

Tiger shark image

Tiger shark

Ecotourism

Further shark research, this time surrounding the concept of ecotourism, was also published this week in the British Ecological Society’s journal Functional Ecology. This study, by scientists at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, revealed that the feeding of tiger sharks at offshore dive sites does not appear to adversely affect their behaviour.

Dive operations offering shark feeding tours have become a highly lucrative industry, and there were fears that feeding sharks could change the behaviour of the animals, making them more susceptible to threats. However, by using satellites to track the behaviour and movement of tiger sharks off Florida and in the Bahamas, the researchers discovered that this was not the case.

The researchers hypothesised that tiger sharks in the Bahamas, where chum is used to attract sharks for dives, would show restricted movements at the dive sites. However, the opposite was found to be true. Tiger sharks in the Bahamas site roamed over an area almost five times greater than tiger sharks in Florida, where the use of chum to attract sharks is illegal.

In a study conducted last year by co-author Neil Hammerschlag, results indicated that shark dive tourism generated more money for local economies than killing the animals for their fins.

He said, “Given the economic and conservation benefits, we believe managers should not prevent shark diving tourism out of hand until sufficient data were to demonstrate otherwise.”

Read more on this story at Mongabay.com – Camera traps go under the ocean, seeking sharks.

Read more about the shark and ecotourism story at CBC News – Ecotourism no threat to tiger shark behaviour.

Learn more about sharks on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 28
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Spotlight on: TED

We can all appreciate a good idea when we hear one. But what about those great ideas that really make a difference, that help make the world a better place? TED, a nonprofit founded in 1984, is devoted to spreading the word about great ideas. Every year TED grants a $100,000 prize to an individual with “One Wish to Save The World” and ARKive patrons E.O. Wilson and Dr. Sylvia Earle have both been recipients in the past.

The 2012 TED prize will be awarded at the end of this month, and what better time to share some of the greatest ideas that were inspired by nature and are helping to change the world, even if just a little bit.

Temp-savvy termites

Magnetic termite photo

Magnetic termite mounds

When those warmer months come around, it’s easy for us to turn on a fan or the air conditioner and escape the heat. However, some people have taken a cue from the termite and its method for staying cool in the hot African sun that doesn’t use energy at all. By opening and closing different vents in the mound, termites keep internal temperatures at a tolerable and constant 87°F. Designers of a residential building in Zimbabwe caught on to the termite’s bright idea and incorporated this vent system into their construction plan, saving 90% of the traditional energy costs of a building similar in size.

Tremendous trunk

African elephant photo

Africa elephant showing trunk

When you think of an elephant, one of the first things that comes to mind is undoubtedly its trunk. A handy adaptation, the African elephant uses its trunk and two prehensile finger-like lips to feed from the ground and trees, breaking off branches and picking leaves and fruit. Recognizing how helpful an elephant trunk can be, many robotic arms used in assembly line production and even medical equipment have been designed using the trunk for inspiration.

Breakneck beak

Kingfisher photo

Kingfisher showcasing its aerodynamic design

Looking at this picture of the kingfisher, it’s not hard to see how scientists used its sleek, aerodynamic design when conceptualising Japan’s ultrafast bullet train. Kingfishers have been reported to dive into water with barely a splash in search of fish. Borrowing from the bird’s design, the bullet train uses 20% less fuel than the traditional train.

Sleek shark

Great white shark photo

Great white shark breaching

You might notice swimmers wearing interesting ensembles at the upcoming Olympics in London this year. Athletes have increasingly been sporting swimsuits inspired by sharks and their skin. The specially designed suits reduce drag by up to 4% and feature a texture similar to small “teeth” that direct the flow of water around the swimmer.

We’ve explored some fascinating ideas, inspired by species, that have helped change the world. Do you know of any other great ideas inspired by nature? Why not share them in the comments below!

Liana Vitali, ARKive Science, Education and Outreach Officer, Wildscreen USA

Feb 5
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From the West End to Wildlife – Part Two

We hope you enjoyed our last From the West End to Wildlife blog featuring Gina Beck and Tori Johns’ favourite species! Today, we’re back with another instalment, quizzing the best of the West End to find out what their favourite species are, and hear about some fascinating wildlife experiences!

Oliver Tompsett

Oliver is currently playing bad-boy wannabe Drew in Rock of Ages, and has chosen a fellow primate as his favourite species, “I love the gorilla; such a powerful creature, yet always so gentle to its family.

Mountain gorilla silverback

Gorilla families are led by an adult male known as a silverback

Oliver is quite right; despite their King Kong reputation, gorillas are actually not particularly aggressive animals, and live in strongly bonded family groups led by a male known as a silverback. There are two species of this impressive primate, the eastern gorilla and the western gorilla, classified as Endangered and Critically Endangered, respectively, on the IUCN Red List. The main threats to these majestic creatures are the loss and fragmentation of habitat, and poaching.

Infant mountain gorilla image

Young gorillas are not fully weaned until they are 3.5 years old

Did you know?

  • Gorillas are the largest of the living apes; adult male gorillas can stand at a height of 1.7 metres.
  • At about 14 years of age, the hair on the saddle of a male’s back turns whitish, hence the name ‘silverback’.
  • Despite their massive size, gorillas are herbivorous, feeding mainly on leaves.
  • Gorillas build nests to sleep in at night, usually on the ground.

Oliver moves from land to sea for the location of his favourite wildlife experience to date, “Snorkelling in Egypt! It was truly like being super-imposed into Finding Nemo! The colours were incredible!

One of the stars of Finding Nemo was Crush the green turtle, and Oliver may well have seen one of Crush’s relatives, gliding gracefully over the reef, during his snorkelling adventures in Egypt.

Green turtle image

Green turtles are graceful gentle giants

There are hundreds more intriguing species to be found off the coast of Egypt, and as an avid rocker, I’m sure that Oliver’s character Drew would have loved to have seen the super-cool giant guitarfish!

Giant guitarfish image

The giant guitarfish is named for its strange guitar-like shape!

Our favourite rocker’s trip was ended rather abruptly thanks to the appearance of another rather large fish species…

The guide saw a dangerous shark and told us all to get back on the boat. Luckily I didn’t see it or I would have cried. I am obsessed with and petrified of sharks!

Oliver may well be terrified of sharks, but we have found one West End wonder who loves them…

 

Sarah Earnshaw

When asked about her favourite species, Sarah replied without hesitation, “For me it has to be the great white shark. I’m absolutely fascinated by them. They have such power, yet are incredibly graceful. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if I came face to face with one I’d be terrified but there’s something so intriguing about their mystery and danger!

Great white shark image

Great white sharks are highly skilled marine predators

The great white shark is often thought of as a fearsome man-eater, but this is not the case; it feeds predominantly on fish, but will also eat turtles, molluscs and small marine mammals.  Like other sharks and rays, the great white shark has a skeleton made of cartilage, rather than bone. This mighty species uses its keen senses of smell, sound location and electroreception to detect weak and injured prey from great distances.

Sarah sticks to the marine realm for her favourite wildlife experience, “I had the most fantastic experience when I was in New Zealand. I went whale and dolphin watching. We saw three beautiful humpback whales, and dolphins literally for as far as the eye could see! There was something so special about seeing the whales diving and their tails rising above the surface. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

Humpback whale image

Humpback whale calves are born in warm waters

Did you know?

  • The humpback whale gets its name from the way it arches its back when it dives deeply or ‘sounds’.
  • The pattern on the underside of the flukes is unique to each whale, and can be used to photo-identify individuals.
  • Humpback whales are known to herd their prey into a cluster by blowing a net of bubbles around shoals of potential food, making it easier to catch a big mouthful at once.
  • Male humpback whales sing a complex song to attract mates.

Sarah is a firm believer in wildlife conservation, “Conservation is extremely important. Without it, not only would we lose some of the most interesting, beautiful and diverse creatures in the world, we also risk a real disruption to the balance of nature as we know it.

Join us again soon for our next blog, when Kerry Ellis and Aoife Mulholland share their wildlife favourites with us!

Get involved

Why not have a browse around the ARKive website to seek out your favourite species? You might be surprised at what you find! Then help spread the wildlife love by tweeting about your chosen awesome animal or peculiar plant using the #LoveSpecies hashtag!

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