Sharks & Rays
There are more than 465 known species of sharks living today.Take Action ↓
One hundred million years before there were dinosaurs, there were sharks. As Earth’s ecosystems evolved and diversified over the millennia, sharks and rays have maintained the balance at the center of the great oceanic food web.
Sensitive to invisible electromagnetic fields, sharks and rays can aptly navigate our blue planet, playing key roles in regulating sea life around the world. Their daily and seasonal voyages are perfectly synchronized with the rhythmic ebb and flow of the lunar currents, such that sharks and rays interact with species that dwell both in shallow coastal waters and throughout high seas. Regardless of what exactly it eats, each shark and ray is essential to keeping global prey populations in check and their underwater homes diverse and productive. From coral reefs and seagrass beds to salmon and oysters, a healthy ocean is dependent on healthy shark and ray populations.
Unfortunately, the immeasurable value of sharks and rays is only just starting to be understood. Despite being our seniors by 450 million years, little is truly known about the biology or behavior of sharks and rays, apart from the many destructive misconceptions.
The sheer size, power, and extraterrestrial appearance of sharks and rays have inspired a great deal of fear and fascination among humans. In Ancient Greece, physicians would regularly call upon the healing powers of electric rays to numb the pain of surgery and childbirth. More recently, poaching of manta rays has spiked throughout Southeast Asia due to a new market of Chinese pseudo medicine. Throughout the Pacific Islands, sharks figure prominently into native mythology, often depicted as ocean guardians or popular gods. In complete contrast to these complex mythical portrayals, the historical European and Western view of sharks has been one of a voracious killing machine. Thanks in no small part to pointed media coverage and Hollywood film portrayals, people tend to focus more on sharks’ toothy grins than their ecosystem services.
Our general fear and popularized misconceptions have fueled an industry that kills more than 100 million sharks and thousands of rays every year. Of the world’s 1,044 or so known shark and ray species, over one third are threatened with extinction. The number is doubtless higher, as most species lack accurate population data. What’s more—of the 1,044 or so shark and ray species, only three are known to fatally attack humans. Still, we are killing sharks and rays faster than they can reproduce. Most species don’t reach sexual maturity until 10-15 years of age, at which time they give birth to small dog-size litters. These ancient giants simply can’t bounce back like other fish species. In the last 15 years, humans have depleted some populations by upwards of 90%!
Living in a world of eternal motion, sharks and rays must keep swimming forward in order to survive. Unless we move forward past our misguided fears and unsustainable appetites, these ancient giants may soon disappear, and with them, any hope of a healthy ocean.