Recent photos that were taken earlier in the year and obtained by World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) have caused major uproar as it shows dead sharks piled waist-deep on a ship fishing the Great Barrier Reef.
The sharks were caught using gillnets, a form of netting that hangs like a wall in the water column and is anchored to the ocean floor. The nets causes mass devastation to any marine life that makes it way into the net, as the photos show.
According to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, gillnets are used to target species that include gummy shark, saw shark and elephant fish. They go on to state that, “Gillnets have a minimal impact on the substrate as they are static when set. Gillnets have the potential to interact with marine mammals, although when set properly, larger predatory sharks and marine mammals will bounce off the tight mesh”.
In a statement from WWF-Australia Chief Executive Dermot O’Gorman, he expressed his concern regarding gill nets as shark populations decline worldwide, “There is nothing illegal in any of these images and in some ways that makes them more disturbing. These pictures show that gillnets are indiscriminate killers in that they drown whatever swims into them including many iconic and threatened species.”
Along with a variety of sharks species including endangered great hammerheads, scalloped hammerhead, reef and tiger sharks, photos show at least four sawfish caught and killed. Sawfish are considered one of the most endangered species of shark, if not the most.
WWF-Australia is currently petitioning for a 85,000 square-kilometer safe space, where gill nets would be banned from the north of Cooktown through to the tip of the Cape. These safe zones are necessary to protect all marine species but particularly sharks, which are vital to the health of a ecosystem.
While the consumption of shark meat is declining, it is still being eaten by many even though majority of sharks are not healthy to eat due to high levels of mercury due to sharks accumulating high levels of toxic chemicals and heavy metals from both skin absorption and from consuming their prey. Yet even though consumption is declining, shark populations are declining too as the shark finning industry is pushing population totals to their limit.
The importance of sharks cannot be overstated as we will never be able to have healthy oceans without the apex predator that sharks are. Sharks are at the top of the food chain in virtually every part of every ocean. In that role, they keep populations of other fish healthy and in proper proportion for their ecosystem. Researchers estimate than more than 100 million sharks are being killed every year with a majority of deaths coming from the shark finning industry and bycatch.