Sharks Need to be Protected

Posted on Mar 2, 2009

Apex predators are the pinnacle of the food chain. These animals that have no natural predators. These animals do what they please and are responsible for balancing the ecosystem (Kluger 2). White sharks are a prime example of an apex predator. White sharks roam the earth’s oceans eating pretty much anything it wants. Sharks eat seals, tuna fish and any other sea creature they come across.

        Apex predators are an integral part of the ecosystem. They are responsible for culling the masses of prey species. This culling helps control the population of the plants and animals that the prey eat. Without these predators the prey starts to multiply at an alarming rate. This overabundance of prey eat too much of the plant life and other small creatures leading to the destruction of an entire ecosystem. 

        One example of this happening is the gray wolf populations in Yellowstone National Park. For the longest time these wolves were considered to be a nuisance to ranchers and their livestock. This led to the almost extinction of the gray wolf. Once the gray wolves where almost gone, the population of elk increased to an alarming level. These elk primarily eat the aspen trees, and as their population grew,  the number of aspen trees that made it to maturity dropped. These trees, considered to be one of the great parts of the national park, were almost completely eaten up by the elk. 

        This association between wolves, elk and aspens was not noticed until after the wolves were reintroduced to the park. Bill Ripple and Bob Beschta, two scientists separately studying the alarming decline in the aspens, noticed that after the reintroduction of the wolves, the population of aspen groves rebounded (Welsch 1). 

        If a similar population decline happens with just the white shark, not taking into account any other sharks, then the population of their prey species will increase. Even on a small scale this can be devastating. If the shark populations that primarily hunt along the western coast of the United States were to be wiped out completely, problems would arise almost immediately. The seals, sea lions and larger fish would start to eat a larger quantity of their common prey. This would lead to the extinction of that prey. The predators would then move onto other smaller prey, eventually eating themselves out of house and home. Once all of the prey is dead, the predators would start to die off. This would in turn cause the microscopic krill to have no decomposing bodies to feed on. The krill would die off giving the filter feeding whales nothing to eat, causing them to die off. The destruction of even one species can destroy an entire local ecosystem. Imagine that on a global scale. 

        A lot of people will talk about conservation, as if that will solve the problem, but with sharks there needs to be more done than just simple conservation. Sharks are one of the oldest species in the ocean. Imagine a creature that has ancestors that go all they way back to the time of the dinosaurs. Scientists can learn so much about evolution just by further study of the shark. 

        The shark is a living fossil. Here is a creature that has survived where very few species have. The extinction of the dinosaurs killed off most of the species on the earth, but not sharks. Sharks have been able to shrug off so many destructive acts but human beings are in danger of destroying this ancient creature. 

        Any effort that is made to save the sharks needs to include a strong research arm. How are we going to save something that we know so little about? Most of the efforts out now are primarily based on a conservation angle. This is important in the short term, but over the long haul more needs to be learned about sharks.

Continued next Monday.