Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

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.

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.”

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

Earth Is Facing Most Severe Extinction Crisis in 65 Million Years

Starbucks, Destroyer of the Seas

David Suzuki: Cecil the Lion’s Killing Shines Spotlight on Barbaric Trophy Hunting

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A man pushes his mother in a wheelchair down Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami on May 19, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.

Read More Show Less
To better understand how people influence the overall health of dolphins, Oklahoma State University's Unmanned Systems Research Institute is developing a drone to collect samples from the spray that comes from their blowholes. Ken Y. / CC by 2.0

By Jason Bruck

Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.

Read More Show Less

Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus

On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.

Read More Show Less
Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks. jacqueline / CC by 2.0

By Kelli McGrane

Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks.

Read More Show Less

"Emissions from pyrotechnic displays are composed of numerous organic compounds as well as metals," a new study reports. Nodar Chernishev / EyeEm / Getty Images

Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.

Read More Show Less
Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons. Curtis Palmer / CC by 2.0

By Ashutosh Pandey

Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A women walks with COVID-19 care kits distributed by Boston's Office of Neighborhood Services in Boston, Massachusetts on May 28, 2020. The pandemic has led to a rise in single-use plastic items, but reusable bags and cloth masks can be two ways to reduce waste. JOSEPH PREZIOSO / AFP via Getty Images

This month is Plastic Free July, the 31 days every year when millions of people pledge to give up single-use plastics.

Read More Show Less