The world’s shark populations are dwindling rapidly

Researchers say sharks are functionally extinct in nearly one-fifth of coral reefs
Updated: Aug. 13, 2020 at 8:23 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Carly Hahn, an avid diver, has a different perspective on sharks than most people.

“It’s so exciting when you get to see one,” said Hahn, who has dived with sharks half-a-dozen times.

”I grew up on ‘Jaws,’ just terrifying,” Hahn said. “It was nothing like that.”

Nothing, she said, like the depictions of shark attacks in the media or on motion picture screens.

"You're lucky if they come by you," Hahn said. "They're so uninterested."

The world's sharks are also, by and large, in trouble.

A recent study led by Florida International University found that sharks are functionally extinct in 19 percent of the world’s coral reefs, their numbers so small they no longer serve a purpose in the ecosystems there.

“Man is definitely the predator here, make no mistake,” said Kristine Grzenda, Curator at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

Sharks are often targeted for food, especially their fins, or they end up as accidental bi-catch in the world’s commercial fishing vessels.

“A really accepted number is that over 100 million sharks are killed worldwide and that’s every year,” Grzenda said.

That compares to the roughly ten fatal shark attacks on humans in the average year, Grzenda noted.

"They're facing extinction at a rate where, if some drastic action isn't taken, we may not be able to reverse it."

Carly Hahn's diving experiences have made her more aware of the plight of the various shark species.

"Whenever they decline, being an apex predator, they're taking a whole ecosystem down with them," Hahn said.

Ripping away that essential piece of the ecosystem impacts coral reefs around the world, disrupting a delicate balance of predators and prey.

"Fish eat other fish, but if shark populations get too low, they keep other populations from being checked and they may overeat and the whole cycle keeps going down," Grzenda said.

On most dives, Hahn said she feels luck to see a shark.

“The small chance that you might be able to encounter them is just incredible,” Hahn said, “and it’s not Jaws.”

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