Photo: Shark Week: code of conduct reflects changing relationship with sharks

(Credit: yohancha via Flickr)

By Scott Wallace, Senior Research Scientist
Do sharks have to be killing something to be interesting? Fifteen years ago I had a unique opportunity to spend a week with a Fox network film crew documenting bluntnose sixgill sharks off of Hornby Island, British Columbia. After the first day, the primary cameraman fell ill, and rather than cancel the trip, they decided to trust me with the $30,000 camera to try to get some shots. We were exceptionally lucky. Every dive we saw sharks, the visibility was great, and although I was a complete rookie, I managed to get some excellent footage of what at the time was a rarely filmed shark. Months passed and I wondered why the documentary had not aired. Eventually I was told that the three-and-half metre long sharks were too boring for television because they were not killing anything.

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Humans and sharks have been portrayed as having a predator-prey relationship with humans incorrectly being seen as potential prey rather than predator. Over the last decade, our understanding of shark biology, behaviour and status globally has shifted the sentiment largely toward one of respect and conservation. In Canada, through the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, we have now assessed the status of most of the shark species thought to be in need of conservation. These assessments have led to some additional protection and management through the Species at Risk Act including a code of conduct for all shark encounters (excluding spiny dogfish) and an additional code targeting basking sharks anticipated to be released by November.

The 14 species of sharks in Pacific Canada (PDF) range from the enormous 10 metre long basking shark to the tiny half metre long green eye shark. At least seven of these species are known to commonly interact with commercial and recreational fishing activity. The code of conduct will be part of the fisheries management plans of Canada's Pacific fisheries and has been developed to reduce the mortality of accidentally caught sharks, improve information gathering and instil a conservation ethic. Shark Week takes place when Canada's Pacific waters are filled with sharks (PDF). While some species such as basking sharks are still suffering from the consequences of wanton destruction, the future for sharks in Canada's Pacific waters is optimistic. The code of conduct, while not a catchy media topic, is a significant step toward shark conservation and some good news for Shark Week. You can help too. If you see a shark, be sure to report it.

August 9, 2013

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