Sharks: Dangerous or misunderstood?
The much feared shark may not be as dangerous as we are inclined to believe, according to expert Greg Nowell, founder of the Sharklab organisation based in Malta.
During an intriguing talk held recently, Mr Nowell intended to change the opinions people have about sharks. “In order to appreciate something, one must be educated about it. When talking about sharks, people think big jaws, big teeth, a slashing monster that eats people. However, this is not the case and the media plays a major part in creating this negative image about sharks,” he said.
There are about 500 different species of sharks. 36 live or pass through Maltese territorial waters, that is, within a radius of 25 nautical miles around the island.
According to Mr Nowell, not all sharks are big. He used a visual measure called a sharkometre to display the different sizes that sharks come in. Surprisingly, 80% of sharks are smaller than the average person and 80% of sharks found in Maltese territorial waters are less than one metre long.
The biggest problem that sharks face is that they are on a downward trend, constantly being overfished on a targeted level or as victims of inadvertent catching.
Sharkfin soup is one of the main reasons why sharks are hunted. This soup, only afforded by the elite in the past, is now a popular dish and its demand has risen significantly in China. For this reason, sharks are being slaughtered for their fins to create a dish which gives no additional taste or nutritional value but only adds texture to its namesake soup.
This is threatening the existence of many species of shark. Sharks have to reach a certain age before they are able to reproduce, the majority having to be at least 15 years old. Thus, if many sharks are being caught, it takes longer for sharks to replace themselves than it would for normal fish.
In Malta, occasional sightings have been reported to Sharklab. Blue sharks were sighted last year close to Filfla and an angel shark was also spotted near Filfla back in 2006. These sightings were also photographed.
In the meantime, Sharklab strives to locate new areas around Malta where sharks can be found, however, over the past four years, the organisation has not been successful.
Mr Nowell clarified rumours that have spread regarding shark sightings and confirmed that hammerhead sharks spotted around Filfla and other alleged sightings near Surfside in Sliema lacked evidence and were never confirmed when those areas were searched.
For more information, visit http://www.sharklab-malta.org.