Issues in Conservation

Shark and ray conservation is a complex issue.

There are numerous websites advocating the protection of certain species - such as the celebrated Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) - and decrying the appallingly cruel and wasteful practice of 'finning' (slicing off the fins most valued for soup, then unceremoniously discarding the rest of the animal - sometimes still alive, doomed to being torn asunder by other sharks or a slow death by starvation). There are even a few that passionately plea for a wide-scale adoption of a 'Save Our Sharks' ethic. But none of these websites takes the approach of conserving shark biodiversity as a whole.

Dried shark fins bagged for sale at Honolulu's Chinatown
Dried shark fins bagged for sale at
Honolulu's Chinatown

A number of well-intentioned websites urge that shark conservation is extremely important because these top-level predators are absolutely vital to the ecology of the seas and many species are endangered. In truth, not all shark species are apex predators (many of the smaller species are preyed upon by a wide variety of marine creatures and thus function at significantly lower trophic levels) and we do not yet fully understand the role of sharks in ocean ecology (although we assume they play an important role, the nature and extent of their collective ecological roles, or that of any individual species, is far from clear). Further, there is no solid, scientific foundation for claiming that any species of shark is in danger of imminent extinction (while certain shark and ray populations seem to be greatly reduced regionally, their world-wide population size or the minimal genetic diversity needed to ensure any species' long-term survival are not known).

I care deeply about shark and ray conservation. The shark and ray conservation material included at this time is merely a prelude to what I have planned.  Eventually, I will add to this website pages exploring the full complexity and subtlety of this issue, including things that 'ordinary' citizens can do to foster elasmobranch conservation. But to do justice to these topics will require a great deal of time and effort on my part and, at this writing, I am bogged down with other commitments. Therefore, for the time being, I choose to use these pages to celebrate elasmobranch diversity for its own sake. It is my hope that - as others come to appreciate the wondrous variety of sharks and rays and the many ways they earn a living in their preferred habitats - these creatures will come to be valued as wildlife whose full diversity is worthy of study and protection.


ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research
Text and illustrations R. Aidan Martin
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