Posts Tagged 'shark conservation'



Maryland House of Delegates Passes Shark Fin Ban!

The House of Delegates has passed HB 1148 – Maryland’s proposed ban on the possession, sale and trade of shark fins! If adopted by the state Senate, Maryland would join California, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and Washington and all three U.S. Pacific territories of Guam,  American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands in passing laws to provide critical protection to sharks and to preserve the health of the world’s ocean ecosystems.

Recent studies indicate that close to 100 million sharks are killed every year – a crippling statistic for the long-term survival of these incredible creatures!

Last month, National Aquarium’s CEO John Racanelli testified before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee in favor of Maryland’s proposed ban on the possession, sale and trade of shark fins. John and others spoke passionately about the need to save our sharks and how these bills will end Maryland’s involvement in the unsustainable and inhumane market for shark fins.

Among those voicing their support for this legislation was fourth-grader Keegan Taylor. Keegan, donning an anti-shark finning t-shirt, displayed her great love of sharks and eloquently urged Maryland’s legislators to pass the bill.

Aquarium CEO John Racanelli and Keegan Taylor

Aquarium CEO John Racanelli and Keegan Taylor

When asked how she became so passionate about protecting sharks, Keegan said, “I first became passionate about sharks when I was 4 years old and watched Shark Week, which I look forward to watching every year. I then got lots of books about sharks and all of the Jaws movies and some shark documentaries. I learned that the author of Jaws worked really hard to help people understand that sharks are not enemies of people since the movie made some people scared. I love sharks and have posters all over my room and have written stories about them.”

Keegan’s Top Seven Reasons Why We Must Ban the Possession or Distribution of Shark Fins:

  1. It is cruel and inhumane to fin sharks. Shark finners cut off the shark’s fin and then throw the shark back in the water to die a painful death. It would be like cutting off your arms and legs and then throwing you in the middle of the street.
  2. It is depleting the shark population, placing many species on the endangered list. If the shark population is depleted – or worse, eliminated – it will disturb the entire ecosystem of the ocean. This will impact all food sources and have a negative impact on humans and many other species. For instance, depleted blacktip and tiger shark populations along the East Coast of the U.S. led to decreased shellfish populations, which led to decreased water quality since shellfish filter water. At this rate, the oceanic ecosystem that has evolved over millions and millions of years would collapse.
  3. It is basic supply and demand. If there is no demand for shark fins because owning or distributing them is illegal, then there will be no demand and no more shark finning.
  4. Shark fins are not even healthy for you! They contain high levels of mercury and add no flavor or consistency to food. The main reason behind finning sharks is for consumer consumption, and a recent study conducted at the University of Miami Brain Endowment Bank found that consuming shark fins may put consumers at risk. The study, published in the journal Marine Drugs, found that shark fins from Florida waters have a high concentration of a neurotoxin (β-Methylamino-L-alanine) that has been linked to Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  5. It’s a wasteful practice. Only the fin is saved while the rest of the shark is thrown back into the ocean. Shark meat is not popular because of the high ammonia content.
  6. President Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act, banning shark finning in U.S. waters, but only five states have banned the distribution and possession of shark fins so far.
  7. The European Union, which is one of the largest exporters of shark fins to Asia, banned finning in 2003, but in a loophole, companies with freezer vessels applied for “special fishing permits” that allowed them to continue if they landed the fins separately from the bodies. The issuing of these permits became standard practice, making a mockery of the law. This loophole was recently closed.

Keegan will soon be visiting National Aquarium to go behind the scenes and meet our sharks! We’ll be sure to share a recap of her visit with everyone!

Why We’re Thankful for SHARKS!

Our blue planet has been inhabited by sharks for more than 420 million years. We now have close to 500 different species of sharks ranging in size from the dwarf lanternshark (only about 6 inches in length) to the whale shark (the largest fish in the world)!

Although they have become the subject of the international phenomenon otherwise known as Discovery Channel’s Shark Week (which boasted an average of 27 million viewers last year), there is still so much to learn about these amazing creatures.

wobbegong shark

The very interesting tasselled wobbegong shark – coming to our new Blacktip Reef exhibit in summer 2013!

In honor of our mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures, we hope to educate our visitors and community about the misconceptions surrounding these amazing animals.

To get to know more about our sharks, we sat down with one of our shark caretakers, Alan Henningsen:

National Aquarium: How long have you been working with sharks? 

Alan Henningsen: I’ve been working alongside sharks for 32 years.

NA: What is your favorite shark species? 

AH: It’s hard to say! My favorite animal is by far the sawfish, which is actually a species of ray.

A sand tiger shark cruises slowly above sawfish in our Shark Alley exhibit.

I have worked with lemon sharks a lot over the years. Actually, the sand tiger sharks and sandbar sharks are my favorite.

The sand tiger sharks get up close and personal with visitors in our Shark Alley exhibit.

NA: What are your daily duties caring for the National Aquarium sharks? 

AH: My day-to-day duties include observing and recording behavior, maintaining the exhibit (e.g. lighting and cleaning), preparing food and feedings.

NA: How many sharks do you care for? 

AH: In our Shark Alley exhibit, I am currently caring for 10 large sharks (5 sand tiger, 2 sandbar and 3 nurse sharks), and 3 rays (2 freshwater sawfish and 1 roughtail ray).

NA: What’s your favorite fun fact about sharks? 

AH: That’s another tough one! I think the diverse way in which sharks reproduce is fascinating. From internal fertilization to asexual conception, sharks display a diverse array of reproduction cycles.

Want to get up close and personal with our amazing sharks and rays to learn even more about these species? Lucky for you, we are hosting a Shark Sleepover on Friday, November 23. Bring the out-of-town family too (we can almost guarantee it will make you the coolest member of your family).

What species of animal are YOU most thankful for this year? Tell us in the comments section below!

A good day for sharks

“Save the sharks” is the message in the nation’s capital this week, as efforts to protect sharks mounted on Capitol Hill and at the National Aquarium’s Washington venue. 

Yesterday, as National Aquarium staff and syndicated cartoonist Jim Toomey prepared to personally deliver more than 6,000  shark conservation letters collected from visitors to NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Eric Schwaab, the Senate passed a very important shark conservation bill that would put new restrictions on shark finning in U.S. waters.

And today, just after the sacks of personally signed letters urging shark protection were delivered by the group and Aquarium mascot Sherman the Shark, the House passed the very same bill. The legislation, deemed the Shark Conservation Act and sponsored by Senator John Kerry (D-MA), will close loopholes in the  current ban on shark finning in the U.S.

Jim Toomey is the creator of Sherman the Shark, a popular cartoon character that appears daily in more than 150 newspapers in the U.S. and around the world to help promote greater awareness and protection of these ancient, mysterious and often misunderstood ocean dwellers. Toomey’s fun-loving character is also the inspiration and theme of Sherman’s Lagoon, the National Aquarium’s newest exhibit in Washington, which features interactive workstations, educational shark videos and shark myths and conservation messages from Sherman the Shark throughout.

Thousands of Sherman’s Lagoon visitors have signed and submitted the letters that were delivered today. The letters are personal requests asking the agency to help promote shark conservation, specifically on the topic of overfishing, which remains the number-one threat facing sharks today. Signers of the letters also added their own personal artwork renderings of their favorite sharks, as seen in this letter from Cara.

Along with Jim Toomey, our Executive Director Bob Ramin and several students delivered more than 6,000 letters from kids from around the country to NOAA Fisheries headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. NOAA Fisheries Administrator Eric Schwaab personally accepted the delivery and sat down with Toomey to discuss some of the leading efforts by NOAA to conserve sharks.

It’s a good day for sharks. Bob Ramin said it best: “They may not know it, but sharks have received a wonderful holiday gift this season–the gift of conservation and awareness.”

Exploring sharks, after dark

From Andy Dehart, Director of Biological Programs at the National Aquarium, DC

Shark Week 2009 kicks off this Sunday at 9:00 EST on Discovery Channel! I am wrapping up a frenzied media tour that Andy Shark after Darkhas enabled me to talk to  television networks, radio stations, and newspapers around the country about how important sharks are to our oceans and the threats they face, as well as the Shark Conservation Act of 2009. Tonight we will be talking with Larry King live in Los Angeles to dispel many of the myths surrounding sharks and shark attacks. Throughout the next week I will be on the CBS Early show which will be covering Shark Week every day.

One of the questions I am often asked throughout these interviews is, what is my favorite experience with sharks. In all honesty, every encounter I have had with sharks has been incredibly special to me. I have had the good fortune to be able to dive with over 40 species of sharks in my career and each experience has been unique. My hope is that all of these species will be around for future generations to enjoy as I have.

Continue reading ‘Exploring sharks, after dark’

S.O.S., save our sharks

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 DSC_0731only 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.

Continue reading ‘S.O.S., save our sharks’


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