Friday, 7 November 2014

Protecting long-haul sharks

The Blowfish
Hi sharky peeps! It’s me, The Blowfish, back again to speak to you about the secret ways of the sharks and rays. The Shark Trust is once again fighting the best fight for the toothy, finny elasmobranchs under the waves. So, what are we looking into this time round then?

Today we are going to talk about those sharks and rays that are always on the move. Now at first it might seem a great idea for sharks to always move around, but it can make it a nightmare for us conservationists to protect them if we don’t know where they are heading.

Whale Shark © Klaus Stiefel
So which sharks are highly migratory? We know that Whale Sharks swim the world’s oceans looking for the perfect plankton, Blue Sharks have been shown to travel 9200km and there has been some amazing work done recently satellite tagging White Sharks and other sharks to track their movements across the globe. However, we still do not know enough about the routes taken by sharks, what factors might make them migrate or even, where they go along the way. Take the Basking Shark: we get a brief glimpse of the world’s second largest fish from May till October, then poof!!! Vanished!!

The truth of the matter is we still have lots of research to conduct on these highly migratory animals. Tagging and tracking sharks is hard work, and not just due to the large cost of satellite tags – many tags need to wash up first, and then be found and uploaded on to a computer. Even simple numbered tags need to be reported to the correct organisation to be recorded. It’s a sad thought that many tagged sharks might be finned at sea and the tag – and all its amazing information – lost without trace.

So how do sharks manage to navigate all over the world?
Blue Shark © Terry Goss.

The ampullae of Lorenzini have long been considered the GPS of the shark and ray world. Being able to pick up the electromagnetic fields of living animals, it is widely believed that the ampullae also can detect the earth’s magnetic field and thus guide a shark across oceans. Sharks and rays must also have a great sense of timing though, as Whale Sharks are known to visit Christmas Island at a specific time each year to feast on the eggs spawned by the population of crabs found there.

So we get to the real problem with these footloose (or should that be fin loose?) sharks. How can we protect them if we do not know where they are? Well it is hard. Really hard. You basically need to get every country to agree to protect the sharks that enter their waters AND get that same country to actually uphold the agreement. Thankfully some of the best shark boffins in the world are coming together to talk about all this at the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) in Ecuador this November.

So keep your eyes peeled for some new developments and hopefully some solutions for the long-haul sharks and round-trip ray.

➤ Find out more about sharks at the Pups Activity Zone

➤ Visit the Shark Trust website

Visit the Blowfish website

Thursday, 25 September 2014

No Limits? No Future!

The Blowfish
Hi Shark Trust crew! The Blowfish here, back to keep you guys in the know with all that is sharky. You see, the hard working people at The Shark Trust know just how passionate the younger (and super cool) supporters are, so I’m here to make sure you stay right in the loop! Your contributions can make a massive difference.

Now today I am talking about the new No Limits? campaign and why it is so massively important to all our shark species here in the UK and the wider European Union. So what’s the score then?

I’m sure many of you, like me, would love to see sharks and rays in the seas and only in the seas! However, we have to be realistic about this and understand that to try and stop all shark fishing would be impossible! So, we must do all we can to make it sustainable and controllable by campaigning for some science-based catch limits. You see, if we can study the populations of these shark species, we can provide information to the fishing industry and advice for quotas and catch limits. Then the fishing boats can still go out and catch their fish and sharks, but, it will be sustainable, and the populations of animals like the Starry Smoothhound, Nursehound and Smallspotted Catshark will stay healthy and thriving.

It’s a real tough task peeps, especially when we have to cover all of Europe and deal with the big problems of bycatch and discards. Bycatch is when a fishing boat catches species it wasn’t targeting, like long lining for tuna, but catching Blue Shark instead. Discards are when a fishing vessel throws fish they do not want, back overboard into the sea. Sadly bony fish are often dead or very weak and do not survive but sharks are much tougher and have a better chance of surviving.

Don’t panic! Because you can be Super Shark Savers! I know all of you will be really awesome with computers, so please share the link to the No Limits? petition at and encourage anyone you know who is over 18 to sign.

For all
those under 18 you can still make your voice count - find out more and sign the pledge. Lets get the No Limits? campaign off to a cracking start.

Remember, No Limits? No Future!

➤ Find out more about sharks at the Pups Activity Zone

➤ Visit the Shark Trust website

Visit the Blowfish website

Awesome sharks and rays under threat!

The Blowfish
Welcome Shark Trust Peeps! The Blowfish hopes you are all well and full of sharky goodness. So much has happened since we last spoke, and with a new year of shark conservation in front of us we’d better get cracking!

A critical report has been released by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and sadly… it’s not good news. The report has stated that our beloved and totally awesome sharks and rays are now some of the most threatened animals on the planet! This is BAD news people.

It seems that some of the weirdest and most wonderful sharks and rays are also the ones most under threat. Shallow water species have taken a real hammering from overfishing and it’s going to take some serious work to get them back on track. But why do sharks and rays suffer so badly? I mean, plenty of fish in the sea, right?

Well, here’s the issue. Many species of sharks and rays reproduce very slowly and they take a long time to reach maturity – just like us! Even when they do reproduce, there is no guarantee that their offspring will survive the long journey to adulthood themselves. One day’s worth of unsustainable fishing could potentially take years to repair.

Sharks and rays that give birth to live young can be so difficult to protect. The mother could hold the babies inside her for many months. While she is pregnant, she is still susceptible to fishing. We know so little about some species that we don’t even know where they go to give birth to their pups! If we did, the Shark Trust could work their gills off to get those areas protected and then the slow rebuilding of the population could begin.

Eggcase © sghaywood photography
Those species that lay eggs, such as skates and catsharks, can sometimes be better off. Laying forty or so eggcases in pairs over just a few months, means that the adults can get back to feeding, growing and preparing for the next mating season; at least some of the eggs the adults have laid are bound to hatch. Plus, with the great help from you guys and gals on the Great Eggcase Hunt, the Shark Trust can provide data to help protect given areas that we know are important egg laying grounds.

 Sawfish © The Deep
Fishing is an expensive business and fuel for boats costs money. Therefore, it’s the coastal, shallow waters that have seen the most damage done because they are easily accessible for boats. The sawfish family live in coastal regions and are considered the number one candidate for most threatened sharks, skates and rays. Hardly an award you’d want to win. Sawfish are amazing because they have a huge long nose (rostrum if you want to be technical) with big sharp teeth sticking out from either side that – guess what – looks like a saw! When the sawfish sees something tasty swimming by, they rush up from the bottom and thrash that huge nose about, hoping to stun, damage or even impale a yummy snack.

Thresher Shark © Matt Newell
Another cracking clutch of critters that are struggling are the thresher sharks. Now I’m sure you all know what a thresher shark looks like. It has a massive long tail that is the key for getting a good feed on! Its method is not unlike the thrashin’ and stabbin’ of the sawfish: when a thresher shark sees a school of fish, it quickly swims straight through them and whips its huge tail back and forth. A fish that gets too close to that whip-like action ends up stunned, and the thresher shark can easily mop up any weakened prey when it returns.

So there we go sharky peeps! Some quick, but vital, knowledge to get you up to date with the current situation! As well as some awesome facts about some of our best, weirdest sharks! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to keep flying the flag for sharks, skates and rays! Get people you know talking about shark numbers and conservation. Oh, and don’t forget to put your best eggcase eyes on when you’re down the beach. The hunt for those mermaid purses continues and every one identified and reported is another step towards a shark-filled future.

➤ Find out more about sharks at the Pups Activity Zone

➤ Visit the Shark Trust website

Visit the Blowfish website

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The 5 coolest sharks in the WORLD!

The Blowfish
Hi Guys! The Blowfish here - the world’s only heavy metal marine biologist. Now you may already know me from the amazing Great Eggcase Hunt video I did with the cool peeps at the Shark Trust… What do you mean you didn’t see it?? Well you’d best get your fins in gear and look at it here!!

Right, now that you’re back from that, you’ll know that the Shark Trust is a bazzing* group of guys and girls who dedicate their lives to helping the most awesome fish in the sea (after me of course)! But what’s the Blowfish doing here? Well the Shark Trust folk were foolish enough to let me talk to you peeps out there about my love for all things finny. So what are we waiting for? LET’S DO THIS!

*Urban dictionary: the word you use when you are describing something so amazing that there is no word for it.

I am going to tell you about the top 5 coolest sharks IN THE WORLD!

© Charles Hood
#5 – OK, this first dude is a slow and silent winner, the second largest fish in the sea AND a UK regular. Give it up for the hometown wonder: the Basking Shark! The Basking Shark is native to our own waters, but what makes it so cool is its amazing feeding method. The Basking Shark is a filter feeder, which means it has special sieves over its gills that can pick up lots of tiny little food particles that live in the plankton (the soup of the sea). 

© Alex Mustard
#4 – A personal friend of the Blowfish and quite possibly the cutest shark around – put your fins together for the Epaulette Shark. At first glance it may not seem as amazing as some other sharks, but this reef specialist is a master of its environment. When the tide goes out and the reef pools become shallow and stagnant, the lack of oxygen makes fish and shrimp go slow and silly – easy prey for our sharky friend. The Epaulette Shark can survive and hunt in this low oxygen environment and moves through shallow waters by using its fins to ‘walk’.

© Alex Safonov
#3 – I know a good beard when I see one and the Tasselled Wobbegong is rocking a style that no one could argue with! Those highly branched fleshy extensions allow the wobbegong to blend perfectly into the reef where it waits to ambush prey. Oh, it’s a bit of a fisherman, too – by slowly waving its tail it can mimic a weak fish. This will attract prey in range of his large, fast bite.

© Sean Sequeira
#2 – The world’s most famous shark and one of the most iconic animals on the planet, in at number 2… the White Shark. The White Shark has to be super-quick and efficient to catch a nimble seal, which is no mean feat in the colder waters the shark inhabits. However, thanks to some amazing blood vessels, this species of shark has its own central heating, which means it can stay warmer than the water around it – this nifty bit of biology helps it make that all-important catch.

© Leolin Grower
#1 – This has to be the Zebra Shark! This superb critter starts life being stripy and ends up being spotty – you can’t go wrong with that kind of paint scheme. Zebra Sharks really are the coolest sharks around; they spend their days on the reef just chilling out on the sandy bottom or sitting snug in a reef crest. At night, it’s party time, as these versatile predators eat anything: crabs, shrimp and even deadly sea snakes could be on the menu!

What a star!

➤ Find out more about sharks at the Pups Activity Zone

➤ Visit the Shark Trust website

Visit the Blowfish website