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Shark Week 2018: 3 Shark Stories You Don’t Want to Miss

Oceans
A Black tip Reef Shark, pictured above, cruising the shallow reefs of a tropical lagoon. Kydd Pollock / Marine Photobank

By Jessica Pink

Editor's note: Shark Week 2018 has kicked off! Before you dive in, take a look at three shark stories from the past week that you should know about. For even more content, check out six of Human Nature's most popular shark stories, including our exploration of "demon whale biters."


1. Sharks vs. humans: At 100 million deaths against 6 each year, it's not a fair fight

The story: Contrary to popular belief, shark attacks aren't as prevalent as many believe them to be, reported Doyle Rice for USA Today July 14. According to research, only five humans died globally this past year from shark attacks—compared to the 100 million sharks that humans kill each year.

The big picture: Due in large part to cultural juggernauts such as the 1975 thriller Jaws, which paint sharks as ruthless human hunters, sharks are often viewed only as attackers. The reality? Many shark species are endangered due to the practice of shark finning, wherein fishers cut off shark fins and throw the severely wounded animals back into the ocean. Prized in Chinese culture, the valuable fins are commonly used in traditional soup or medicine. Shark finning is just one piece of the billion-dollar illegal and unregulated fishing trade, but recent successes in the tracking and prosecuting of illegal fishers could spell hope for the ocean's most notorious predators.

Read more here.

Shark, pictured above, swimming alongside fish in Tuamotu.Rodolphe Holler

2. Exotic sharks could migrate to British waters in coming decades due to climate change

The story: Warmer oceans are triggering certain shark species to adapt their migratory patterns, reported Josh Gabbatiss for The Independent July 16. Large shark species including great whites, black tips and hammerheads could soon be moving to British waters.

The big picture: Although certain species of sharks can migrate, others are not as able to adapt. As climate change affects the temperature and acidity of oceans, species such as basking sharks are already suffering. As the ocean becomes more acidic, for example, sharks have a difficult time seeking their prey. Despite this potential increase in the number of different shark species swimming British waters, an expert explained that the actual number of British sharks could, in fact, go down. "We will increase from 40 species to maybe 60, but there will still be less of them—and some of the existing ones will maybe go extinct in the meantime," said Dr. Ken Collins, a former administrator of the UK Shark Tagging Programme.

Read more here.

3. 7 reasons why we're lucky to have sharks

The story: Sharks serve a vital role in ocean ecosystems: They regulate food webs, protect coral reefs and help to mitigate climate change, reported Russel McLendon for Mother Nature Network July 22.

The big picture: As climate change, pollution and overfishing threaten healthy oceans, sharks offer hope for at least one marine ecosystem: coral reefs. Research shows that in reefs where robust shark populations were found, corals showed faster recovery from bleaching. And the positive impact of sharks stretches further: "Just the fear of sharks can be enough, in many cases, to keep a marine ecosystem healthy and able to respond to stresses," said Mike Heithaus, Florida International University scientist. The continued decline of already threatened shark populations could set off a negative chain of events that would prove devastating to entire marine ecosystems—and the humans that depend on the ocean for their food and livelihoods.

Read more here.

Jessica Pink is an editorial intern for Conservation International.

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

View of an Ivorian cleared forest at the edge of the 35.000 hectares Peko Mont National Park on Oct. 8, 2016. The Mont Péko National Park is located in the west of Ivory Coast where the forest officers fight with illegal immigrants to protect an exceptional flora and fauna, espacially dwarf elephants. SIA KAMBOU / AFP / Getty Images

Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.

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The Apusiaajik Glacier, as seen from Kulusuk village in East Greenland. Like most glaciers in Greenland, it's retreating rapidly, changing the local landscape year by year. Photo credit: Karin Kirk

By Karin Kirk

Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.

During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.

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Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market. Cirou Frederic / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images

Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market, according to new research from the advocacy organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), which bills itself as an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors trying to reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first three years of development.

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Chicago skyline on July 22 as high winds continue to push the waters of Lake Michigan over the top of the pedestrian and bike trail along the lakefront in Chicago. Raymond Boyd / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

By Daniel Macfarlane

Every fall, I take my environmental studies class camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan. Some years the beach extends more than three meters to the water. This year, in many spots, there was no beach at all.

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Insects like bees, butterflies and even certain species of beetle and ant incidentally pollinate our crops when they collect protein-rich pollen and sugary nectar. Rolf Dietrich Brecher / CC BY 2.0

By Kerstin Palme

Creepy-crawlies are among the oldest life forms on this planet. Before dinosaurs ever walked the earth, insects were certainly already there. Some estimates date their origins to 400 million years ago. They're also extremely successful. Of the 7 to 8 million species documented on Earth, around three quarters are likely bugs.

But several insect species could disappear for good in the next few decades and that would have serious consequences for humans.

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Swedish automaker Volvo unveils its first electric vehicle the XC40 Recgarge EV, during an event in Los Angeles on Oct. 16. Frederic J. BROWN / AFP / Getty Images

Volvo introduced its first-ever all-electric vehicle this week, kicking off an ambitious plan to slash emissions and phase out solely gas-powered vehicles starting this year.

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Cars are queued in Turin, Italy in August. Particulate matter levels were the highest in Italy, Poland and the Balkans countries. Nicolò Campo / LightRocket / Getty Images

Air pollution in Europe led to more than 400,000 early deaths in 2016, according to the most recent air quality report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The report, released Wednesday, found that almost every European who lives in a city is exposed to unhealthy air, Reuters reported.

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