Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wild at Heart II: Sharks

This weekend marked the opening of Wild at Heart II, the third edition of the endangered species benefit shows co-curated by myself and Thinkspace's Andrew Hosner. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Though the exhibition has closed, you can still check out all the work online.

Shark Toof "Seven Shark Show"

There are over 440 species of sharks in the world’s oceans, many of which are considered the keystone species of their ecosystem, meaning that their removal from the environment causes the entire food chain to collapse. When hunting, sharks are discriminatory predators, culling the oldest and weakest members of their prey species, which ensures healthier fish populations. Many sharks also scavenge the sea floor to dispose of carcasses that could spread disease. Currently, dozens of shark species are listed as vulnerable or endangered, including the Whale Shark, Basking Shark, Great White Shark, Great Hammerhead and the docile bottom-dwelling Zebra Shark.

Sharks mature late and reproduce slowly. Many species take up to 20 years to reach maturity, and once they are adults, some species take almost two years to bear just a few live pups. Their already low birth rate has been adversely impacted by habitat degradation in their shallow coastal breeding grounds. Bottom-dwelling sharks like the zebra shark are often killed as bycatch of bottom trawl fishing, and open-ocean sharks like mako and basking sharks are frequently caught in long-lines, trawls and gillnets intended for tuna. In many fisheries, tuna boats now catch more sharks than tuna.

About 75 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, which are prized for traditional Chinese medicine and in shark fin soup, considered a status symbol in China and Japan. Shark meat is much less valuable than the fins, which can sell for up to $600 a pound, so fishing vessels have no incentive to preserve their meat. Once a shark’s fins have been cut away, the shark is dumped back into the ocean while still alive, and unable to swim, it dies a torturous death by slow suffocation or blood loss. Due to this rapacious demand for shark fins, many sharks never live long enough to reproduce, so their populations have collapsed catastrophically over the past few decades.

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