From Andy Dehart, Director of Biological Programs in Washington, DC
This weekend is Shark Weekend at the National Aquarium’s DC venue. We are celebrating sharks and teaching visitors more about these fascinating animals. In my last blog post, I mentioned that some species of sharks have decreased by nearly 90% in just the last 20 years. Before I explain why that is happening, let me ask a question: What do the following have in common: driving to the beach, dogs, lightning, pigs, and falling coconuts?
Well, all of these kill more people per year than sharks. Last year there were only 59 unprovoked shark attacks with only 4 fatalities worldwide. This is a decrease from the 71 the year before and a continued drop from the year 2000 despite continued population growth and beach attendance. Clearly we have very little to fear from sharks.
Sharks, however, can not say the same about their risk from mankind. Each day roughly 250,000 sharks are killed through targeted fisheries and as bycatch. Many sharks are slow to mature and have very few young compared to other fish. Some species, such as the sandbar shark which we have in our Open Ocean exhibit at our Baltimore venue, can take up to 10-14 years to mature and only have 1-14 young every other year after a 9 month gestation. To top it off, many of the habitats these sharks are using as nursery areas are becoming overdeveloped leading to habitat loss and polluted waters.