international whale shark day

International Whale Shark Day

For Everyone, Opinion Pieces

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Predating dinosaurs by almost 200 million years; surviving five events of mass extinction; sharks are one of the oldest species of animals on the planet.  Survivors of the deep, it is alarming that in less than two generations, the shark population has fallen by 90%.

There are currently 440 shark species in existence today.  11 are critically endangered, 15 endangered and 48 species are listed as vulnerable.  In 2016, the whale shark (Rhincodon Typus) was moved from vulnerable to endangered according to the IUCN Red List.  In the last 75 years, the population has decreased by 50%.  It probably comes as no surprise that poaching, ship collisions, bycatch, sonar waves, environmental degradation, plastic pollutants – all human activities – are the largest threat to shark life.

August 30th, has been marked as the International Day of the Whale Shark.  Developed by ocean activists and conservationists to educate the globe on actions to reduce the decline of these stunning, and incredible giants of the ocean.

Related story: World Water Day | Tackling Today’s Water Challenges

Four Things for Whale Shark Conservation

Shark Fin Soup and Shark Products – Just Say No

Shark finning – the practice of removing and deligening of shark fins – is a leading contributor to the massive decline of shark populations.  A completely inhumane practice, the shark remains alive to return to the ocean, without fins, and unable to swim or breathe it eventually sinks to the bottom of the seabed and suffocates to death. 

The harvesting of shark fins is a common cultural practice in South-East Asia. Travelers exploring the cuisine in these areas should avoid shark fin soup at all cost, it not only kills a creature imperative to the ocean’s ecosystems but holds zero nutritional value.  According to The Smithson’s Ocean Journal, Find Your Blue, it is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed annually as part of the fin trade.  Despite being made illegal in countries such as Palau, Kiribati and the Bahamas, stricter, more encompassing regulations need to be developed to protect these creatures.  

Single Use Plastic – Just Say No

One of the most controversial and widespread conversations of today, single-use plastics, are directly related to the demise of shark life.  Whale sharks are especially vulnerable as they feed close to the surface. Filling large quantities of water into their mouths, they ingest not only necessary nutrients, but nurdles, floating plastics, and other toxins.  Lodging within the whale sharks digestive tracts, plastics do not disintegrate – filling their stomachs, reducing the ability to eat – and essentially cause an animal to starve to death. Countries such as Kenya, Vanuatu, and the United Kingdom are setting precedent to eliminate single-use plastics such as bags and straws.  Canada, as of January 2018 has banned the production of microbeads in toiletries such as hand soap and face wash, and the city of Montreal banned the use of single-use plastic bags.  These are all great steps, but we must continue to curb the use of plastics. When traveling to remote coastal areas, keep in mind that basic waste management and recycling – don’t exist in many cases – and being aware of consumption practices is imperative to ensuring plastic and waste doesn’t end up directly in the oceans.

Engage in Ecotourism

A great way to participate in whale shark conservation is to engage in ecotourism as it creates a monetary incentive to protect sharks.  The portrait of a poacher isn’t always the evil doer – many are out of work fishermen trying to support their communities and families. If there is a high value placed on oils, leathers, and fins – it increases the likelihood of the whale sharks being poached.  So what if we change that incentive. Ecotourism brings value to the ocean and its wildlife. If families see the value in the whale sharks because people are coming to see the migration, dive with them, and in turn spend money within their communities – it builds awareness and the need for the sharks.  Once poachers, now become advocates making sure that they keep the coastal areas clean and connecting actions to consequences.

Support Good Non-Profits

Deep Trekker believes in doing research and showing support for great non-profits as a way to support marine conservation.  Groups doing great work for whale sharks include the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, diving groups such as the Cousteau Divers and educational foundations such as Plastic Oceans.  Education and awareness are key to driving concerned citizens to action – with the proper tools and support – the potential for each of us to make a difference is endless.

The primary threat to sharks is simply human ignorance, apathy, and fear.  The reality is we have more to fear from an Ocean without sharks in it, than an Ocean with healthy and bountiful sharks. International Whale Shark Day raises awareness of these issues and offers a voice for those who want to get involved in conserving and protecting whale sharks.

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