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Sharks – the most misunderstood animal in the ocean

Ocean Ecosystems

Sharks are as old as Dinosaurs!

For 360 million years, sharks have dominated the ocean food chain, earning them a spot at the very top. They are known as apex predators, meaning they are not eaten by any animal. Sharks are important for keeping our ocean ecosystems healthy. In fact, some species of sharks are called keystone species. This means they are so important to their habitat, that if they became extinct (gone forever), the whole food chain may collapse.

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The Food Chain

Who eats who eats who...

Apex Predators

In every habitat, you have a mixture of herbivores (plant eaters), omnivores (plant and meat eaters) and carnivores (meat eaters). You can create a food chain to show where the energy travels, starting at the beginning - the Sun. Adult Sand Tiger Sharks have no predators in the ocean. This makes them an apex predator and the top of their food chain. They predate on smaller sharks, fish, squid, rays and crustaceans.

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Sharks play an essential role in balancing the Food Chain

Typically, sharks will predate on the weaker prey, ones who might be older or ill. This leaves all the healthy animals to be able to live on and create the next generation of fish, squids and rays. Without apex sharks in an ecosystem, there are no predators for the other carnivores. These carnivores are able to increase in population, since nothing is eating them. Food for these carnivores very quickly runs out, leaving the carnivores either hungry, or having to adapt to a different diet.

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Sharks are Fussy Eaters

Over time, sharks have become so specific with the food they eat; their teeth have evolved to be perfectly able to catch that prey. Sharks have become very fussy eaters because each species has teeth which allow them to only eat certain types of food. If we continue to take as much fish out of the ocean as we have been in the past, many shark species will go hungry, and potentially extinct.

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We Both Eat Fish...

There are over four million commercial fishing vessels, catching fish for people’s lunch and dinner, all around the world. These boats usually catch fish with a large net (trawler or purse seine) or fishing lines (long lines). Many people love to eat fish and so too do sharks, and they've been eating them for a lot longer than us. How can we make sure they don't go hungry?

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How many shark species are at risk of extinction?

How many shark species are at risk of extinction?

It is estimated that over 33% of sharks world wide, are at risk of becoming extinct.

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What shark is commonly eaten in New Zealand

What shark is commonly eaten in New Zealand

Lemonfish is commonly sold in fish and chip shops around New Zealand. Lemonfish can be School Sharks, Gummy Sharks or Spotted Dogfish (another shark!).

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Carpet Shark
Carpet Shark
Hammerhead Shark
Mako Shark
Lemonfish
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How many species of sharks are there?

How many species of sharks are there?

There are thought to be over 500 species of sharks currently in the world. Scientist do not know the exact number as we still have 99% of the ocean to explore.

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Shark Fins and Souviners

Problems with killing sharks

Fins, Fishing and Fossils

Annually it is thought 100 million sharks are killed every year for their fins, and an estimated 30 million more caught as bycatch (an accidental catch by commercial fisheries). With sharks being such an important part of the oceans ecosystem, this number is unsustainable, as sharks are slow breeders. Unfortunately Shark finning (for Shark Fin Soup) is not the only threat to sharks. Non release Sport fishing/Trophy hunting creates competition for people to catch the biggest shark possible.

Many stores around the globe sell shark products. Most of the time the sharks have been caught as bycatch. Sharks are also purposefully hunted for their teeth to be sold as "fossils". Most alarmingly, some sharks are still being sold as preserved specimens! In souvenir shops and many online stores, you can still purchase a baby spiny dogshark in jar. All these factors continue to threaten every shark’s species existence and drive them all closer towards extinction.
 

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Dig A Little Deepter

Here's How You Can Help

Sustainable Fishing

By purchasing sustainably sourced fish, you can make sure you are not eating anything that is already threatened or endangered. Many fish we eat are also eaten by sharks, rays and marine mammals. If we take out all of their food, these animals face extinction themselves.

Fishing Quotas

Fishing with a rod or small net is the best way to catch your food without bycatch. Always stick to the size limits and catch limits. Size limits are in place so babies have a chance to grow up and reproduce before taking them out of the sea. Catch limits help stop the population from collapsing.

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Don't Eat Sharks

Shark is commonly sold in New Zealand as Lemonfish. Lemonfish is actually ranked E or Red – the worst choice and least sustainable seafood choice! Fins may also be imported from countries who allow shark finning, a method which results in a slow painful death. Check where your seafood has come from to make sure it is the best option!

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