Shark Awareness Day is celebrated each year on the 14th of July to bring awareness to the dwindling population of sharks. The number of sharks has gone down drastically due to human activities like overfishing and increased demand for their fins. Due to the negative portrayal of sharks in mainstream media, they have not obtained as much concern for their survival compared to other endangered species. Therefore, this day is celebrated to clear any such misconceptions and bring importance to their conservation efforts.
The effects of climate change on the population of sharks are substantial. Due to the rising water temperatures, deep-sea predators like sharks die out, affecting the underwater food chain. Dwindling shark population might result in increased populations of herbivores such as sea cows, which will subsequently lead to overgrazing of seagrass by herbivore species. This, combined with the rise in temperatures, will result in the loss of marine biodiversity, which will create its own set of problems.
Sharks are ectothermic, which means that they cannot regulate their body temperature and depend on the external temperature. Therefore, the gradual rise in overall water temperatures will affect the sharks’ ability to perform bodily functions effectively. Warming water temperatures may force their prey to move towards the poles, which may cause the sharks to leave their own habitat and enter another and disrupt the harmony of that habitat.
The increased absorption of carbon emissions in the oceans increases the acidity levels of the marine environment, causing adverse effects to the physiology of sharks and impacting their survival. Increased acidity levels also affect their sense of smell, which may impact their ability to detect and hunt prey. If sharks cannot identify prey and consume them, it will affect their nutrition and may also cause an impact on their survival.
Fortunately, the world has woken up to this pressing issue and taken various steps to protect the shark population. South Africa has declared the Great White Shark as a legally protected species, becoming the first country in the world to do so. Many countries and states have enacted laws that ban the trade of shark fins. Countries like Palau, Bahamas, Maldives, and Honduras have created shark sanctuaries aimed at protecting the shark population by banning commercial fishing of sharks within such sanctuaries. Some places have banned shark fishing altogether.
Shark populations are declining worldwide, and 39 species of sharks and rays on the IUCN Red List. Over 100 million sharks are killed by commercial and recreational shark fishing, which has placed many shark species in the ‘Critically Endangered' category. Discovery Channel has a dedicated programming block called “Shark Week”, which is also conducted to protect the shark population. Featuring shark-based programming, Shark Week is held in July or August. This year, Shark Week runs from July 11 to July 18.
Events like Shark Awareness Day and Shark Week help highlight the importance of sharks in the marine environment and the effect on biodiversity caused by their decline in population. As the environment is a tightly connected web, any impact on the marine environment will cause an impact on humans as well. Therefore, it is important to continue maintaining the current shark population and preventing it from further decline.
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