On the surface, it might seem like an ocean without sharks would be a more enjoyable place. But, these predators play a very important role in the ocean ecosystem and they need our protection just like many other ocean dwelling creatures.
Sharks have been at the top of the food chain for hundreds of millions of years, but today their populations are in danger because of human activities, such as overfishing and finning (this is when people catch sharks, remove the fins, and dump the carcass overboard).
Andrew P. Nosal, Ph. D, Birch Aquarium’s new DeLaCour Postdoctoral Fellow for Ecology and Conservation, shares his shark expertise and explains that all sharks are not the evil villains seen in movies, but are essential in maintaining a balanced ocean.
Leopard sharks are a special species of shark found only along the West coast of North America, their territory spanning from Washington to Baja California. A distinctive characteristic of these creatures is their mild temperament. Unlike most sharks, which will bite anything that might be food, leopard sharks are timid and have such small mouths that they pose essentially no danger to humans. In fact, a leopard shark bite on a human has never been recorded by the International Shark Attack File.
Every Summer La Jolla Shores is the gathering site of hundreds of leopard sharks. A common misconception of this behavior is that these sharks convene here to mate or give birth, but in fact scientists are not quite certain what they do at this annual conference.
Wildlife conservation is a well established notion within Western culture, but convincing developing nations about its importance can be challenging.
Lisa Ballance, Director of the Marine Mammal and Turtle division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Southwest Fisheries Science Center explains that although the United States has implemented policies like the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, animals don’t understand and abide by geopolitical boundaries.
The mission of the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division is mainly to assess the status and trends of these animals’ health and livelihood within their ecosystem, as well as identify and mitigate threats and educate others on the science of conservation.