08/05/2011 - It's summer time, and the living is easy, with many vacationers heading for the coast. But once there, the bravest of people find that swimming is uneasy, thanks to the fear that their worst nightmare may be lurking nearby. Is that dark shadow under the water some seaweed, driftwood or ... a shark?
As sharks tend to be slow to mature and have relatively few young, the results have been disastrous. A report issued in June by the Pew Environment Group -- "Sharks in Trouble: The Hunters Become the Hunted" -- cites a 2000 study that said up to 73 million sharks are killed for their fins every year but many scientists believe at least 100 million sharks are killed annually for various reasons. Shark populations have declined by as much 70 to 80 percent, the study says.
Why should anyone care, especially the fearful bather? Because, as the study says, sharks "play an important role in maintaining the structure and function of the marine ecosystem. The loss of sharks can cause dramatic shifts in the marine environment, including a cascade of indirect effects resulting from changes in the abundance of other organisms." The consequences can include the collapse of important fisheries.
But it's not all bad news. One of the recommendations of the Pew study is the establishment of shark sanctuaries where shark fishing is banned; fortunately, these protective zones are on the rise. The Pacific island nation of Palau was the first, and other sanctuaries have been established in Honduras, the Maldives and the Bahamas.
Read the full article, Fear with Fins: It's Sharks That Should Be Afraid of People, on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Web site.