The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Humans: The Worst Predators on the Planet
Watch any nature documentary and you’ll see the same story unfold time and time again: A predator approaches a group of potential prey and ends up taking down a single animal, perhaps the youngest, the weakest or the oldest among them.
— Science News (@ScienceNews) August 20, 2015
Watch human beings doing the same thing and you’ll observe something different: They’ll either take the biggest animal—the strongest and the most charismatic—or they’ll just go ahead and take the entire group.
That fundamental difference in behavior, according to a paper published Thursday in the journal Science, makes humans the worst predators on the planet.
The paper—more than 10 years in the making—surveyed 2,215 predator species around the world. It found that humans kill adult animals at rates up to 14 times higher than any other predator. Not only that, but we also target an abnormally high number of other predators, not just for food but also—as with Cecil the lion—for sport.
“We are a predator of predators,” said the study’s lead author, Chris Darimont, Hakai-Raincoast professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia and science director for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. That position high above everything else on the food chain led the researchers to use the term “super-predator” to describe humans.
Darimont acknowledged that “super-predators” is a catchy term, but he said it has more than one meaning. “We also use ‘super-predator’ because of our enormous dietary breadth. What other predator has thousands of prey species that it preys upon? What other predator impacts entire food webs? None.”
Although land-based hunting by humans affects species all over the world, the researchers found that our greatest impact takes place in the oceans, where fishing vessels can take thousands of pounds of fish from the water at once. Here again, fisheries target the largest adult specimens. “Fishers don’t tend to brag about the small ones,” Darimont said. “Industrial harvesters are after the big ones because they’re in fact more economical to process. You have less waste per fish.”
— Irina Tikhomirova (@IrinaGreenVoice) August 21, 2015
This focus on adult fish is considered “sustainable” because it supposedly allows smaller, juvenile fish to have greater access to food—and then to grow large enough to also be caught. But Darimont said it has ecological repercussions. It leaves too few fish for other animals to eat and removes nutrients—in the form of dead or digested fish—from the ecosystem. “It’s one of the reasons why there is less biomass in the ocean now than there used to be,” he said, pointing out that many fish species and entire fisheries have become depleted in recent years.
Industrial-scale fishing also results in a large amount of bycatch, or the killing of not just targeted fish but other fish species, as well as sea turtles, marine mammals and birds. “I would hazard to guess that we are the only predator that commonly and at very high rates kills animals we are not intending to kill,” Darimont said. “What a sort of grotesquely sloppy predator we are that can do that.”
Although the timing of the paper is not intentional, Darimont said he is glad it comes so soon after the death of Cecil. “People are becoming increasingly well informed about the scope and implications of hunting large carnivores,” he said. “I think it’s a good time to consider reevaluating what we consider sustainable exploitation.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Extreme weather events supercharged by climate change in 2012 led to nearly 1,000 more deaths, more than 20,000 additional hospitalizations, and cost the U.S. healthcare system $10 billion, a new report finds.
A Bay Area conservation group struck a deal to buy and to protect the world's largest remaining privately owned sequoia forest for $15.6 million. Now it needs to raise the money, according to CNN.
The Rugby World Cup starts Friday in Japan where Pacific Island teams from Samoa, Fiji and Tonga will face off against teams from industrialized nations. However, a new report from a UK-based NGO says that when the teams gather for the opening ceremony on Friday night and listen to the theme song "World In Union," the hypocrisy of climate injustice will take center stage.
By Wudan Yan
In June, New York Times journalist Andy Newman wrote an article titled, "If seeing the world helps ruin it, should we stay home?" In it, he raised the question of whether or not travel by plane, boat, or car—all of which contribute to climate change, rising sea levels, and melting glaciers—might pose a moral challenge to the responsibility that each of us has to not exacerbate the already catastrophic consequences of climate change. The premise of Newman's piece rests on his assertion that traveling "somewhere far away… is the biggest single action a private citizen can take to worsen climate change."
On Monday, Sept. 23, the Climate Group will kick off its 11th annual Climate Week NYC, a chance for governments, non-profits, businesses, communities and individuals to share possible solutions to the climate crisis while world leaders gather in the city for the UN Climate Action Summit.
By Pam Radtke Russell in New Orleans
Local TV weather forecasters have become foot soldiers in the war against climate misinformation. Over the past decade, a growing number of meteorologists and weathercasters have begun addressing the climate crisis either as part of their weather forecasts, or in separate, independent news reports to help their viewers understand what is happening and why it is important.