Are We Overvaluing Reef Sharks?

Are We Overvaluing Reef Sharks

In the 1975 film Jaws, Bruce was a 7.6-meter-long model of a great white shark. He had a peerless reputation for power, an unquenchable thirst for blood.

But Bruce was also made of rubber and latex. He was nothing like a shark. And yet his character would come to define the sharks of our seas. Regardless of their true nature, these fish are seen as superlative predators that rule any waters they ply.

This image is so palatable that we’ve even begun to give sharks a degree of power over their environments that, in the vast majority of cases, they’ve never really held.

In the media and the public eye, sharks have adopted a level of ecological significance far beyond what is realistic. Take an example from the New Yorker: “We’ve been systematically killing off sharks, in spite of evidence that, as ‘apex predators,’ they’re crucial to maintaining biodiversity.” 

Or Wired: “Drive keystone predators like wolves or sharks extinct and entire ecosystems collapse.”

Every year, fishers kill an estimated 100 million sharks by accident or for their meat and fins. But according to ecologists Peter Mumby and George Roff, the familiar tale that these devastating losses are crippling the wider ecosystem is often just that: a story, not a conclusion backed by science. Continue reading –