Over 1000 Sharks And Rays Reported To Be Entangled By Ghost Gear And Plastic

Shortfin mako shark entangled in fishing rope in the Pacific Ocean, causing scoliosis of the back. Credit: Daniel Cartamil

While there are many fisherman and companies out in the oceans today who follow policies and laws set in place to protect marine wildlife, there are still much too many whom are more concerned about a profit and have little to zero regard for the wellbeing of the seas.

The University of Exeter scientists reviewed existing published studies and Twitter for shark and ray entanglements and found more than 1,000 entangled animals. As well, the group believed the number to be significantly higher as there really is no way to identify how many animals die due to entanglement as they are never found in the vast ocean.

The review, which was published in the journal Endangered Species Research, explained that the entanglements were caused by ghost gear, plastic, plastic bags and rubber tires.

Reviews of academic papers found reports of 557 sharks and rays entangled, spanning 34 species in oceans including the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian. On Twitter, the researchers found 74 entanglement reports involving 559 individual sharks and rays from 26 species including whale sharks, great whites, tiger sharks and basking sharks.

74% of entanglements were caused by ghost fishing gear, followed by plastic strap bands at 11% and finally plastic bags at 1% of total entanglements. The researchers did note that ghost gear entanglements are a far lesser threat to shark and rays than commercial fishing, but the suffering caused is a major animal welfare concern.

Researchers did identify factors that appeared to put certain species more at risk:

  • Habitat—sharks and rays in the open ocean appear more likely to get entangled, as do those living on the sea floor, where materials such as nets loaded with dead fish sink and attract predators, which in turn get stuck.
  • Migration—species that cover long distances appear at more at risk of encountering plastic waste.
  • Body shape—sharks seem to be at greater risk than rays. Species with unusual features—such as manta rays, basking sharks and sawfish—are also at more risk. 

The study says more research is needed, and the researchers have worked with the Shark Trust to create an online report form to gather data on entanglements: https://recording.sharktrust.org/entanglement/record

If you do run into or find an animal that has become entangled, please fill out the link immediately to ensure that the incident can be used to further push for protections to help reduce the problem.

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