SciSun: Great White hope   Leave a comment

In this weeks fish news, it looks like we might need a bigger boat, because it’s Shark Week! In fact, the population of many sharks off the California coast are becoming rather weak….

As you remember, we talked about invasive giant goldfish that are threatening Lake Tahoe, currently one of the most pristine lakes in the United States but now threatened by goldfish (of all things), and other aquatic species, that are harming the natural habitat. And if you don’t think that’s off the scale, the California Fish and Game Commission has voted to place the Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) on the California Endangered Species List as a threatened species. But hold on, you say, is this the same white shark that’s the king of ocean predators, attacking with no reason and materializing in our nightmares as a set of ravenous Jaws filled with razor sharp teeth? Aren’t they nothing but aquatic terminators, lurking anywhere and everywhere in the ocean, just waiting for a group of clueless skin-diving teens or an out-of-its-league fishing boat carrying a grizzled old sea captain and an impulsive marine biology graduate student?

Well that’s what the movies would want you to think, but actually the Great White isn’t the killing machine you might believe – oh, it’s dangerous and we wouldn’t want to be face to face with his toothy smile, but these fish usually only attack something that, to them, looks like it’s in trouble and would make an easy meal. So the divers and surfers and swimmers that are reported as victims of shark attack, in the sharks mind were an injured sea lion or fish in distress or some other animal that’s sick or struggling; or all alone with no protection; and can’t fight back. Because the Great White is an opportunistic hunter/scavenger – something that attacks and eats easy prey – and not so much a seek-and-find hunter, like a Killer Whale or Dolphin or Tuna (yes, Tuna.  There’s more to that fish than sandwiches!). And the Great White doesn’t think things out, it usually just acts on instinct. It’s not like it has a lot of brain power to think deep thoughts.

Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)

Sea lion, scuba diver, surfer, foam-cutout-of-toy-animal: All look the same to the Great White.

But hey, isn’t there a US Endangered species list? Why not add Sharky to this national list, not just in California? The Great White can be found in most of the world’s oceans with moderate temperatures (unfortunately, the same temperatures people like for swimming), and while the Great White has always been an uncommon fish, scientists believe its population throughout most of its habitat is fairly stable. However, in some areas of the world people have decided it’s ‘cool’ to hunt the White, along with other sharks; or pour blood into the water to attract a shark, then try to shoot it or hit it with metal poles or throw explosives into the water, just to say you did; and some people actually believe parts of the shark have special medical or cultural powers so they catch as many shark as they can, cut off the parts they want, and throw the body back into the water. This harassment and overfishing results in fewer sharks, and that leads to overpopulation of other animals, or dead animals floating in the ocean spreading disease. Because the Great White wasn’t there to do it’s job. While it’s a tragedy that anyone is attacked by a Great White shark, maybe it’s time everyone works to better understand the purpose this unique species performs in a healthy ocean.

This is our second fish-related post in a row (roe??), and of course while no one knows what the latest wildlife and environment news there’ll be, we don’t plan on writing about fish again for a while. So you might say for now, this topic is fin.


Michonne Says: I didn’t like that goldie-fish story and I don’t like this story, either.  Do those white-sharks hunt alone, or all together like wolves?  Either way, I don’t even want to go to the water to get a drink, now.

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