Getting your teeth into shark conservation

Getting Your Teeth Into Shark Conservation

Hopefully youll forgive the rather obvious pun of the title because shark conservation breaks offer the possibility of a fantastic and rewarding new experience.

A quick reality check

Perhaps the use of the word shark has just sent you diving for cover behind the couch with a blanket over your head! If so, theres a fair chance that youll have grown up seeing endless re-runs of JAWS and similar epics where sharks were portrayed as just about the worst imaginable enemies of humankind. Its also fair to say that there is often virtual media hysteria when there is any incident involving a shark anywhere in the world. Yet the reality is rather different.

Its generally accepted that there are over 350 different species of shark around the world today (some sources cite the figure as being closer to 1000). Of those, only four species have been commonly known to attack humans, with a few others making very rare attacks. The year 2000 was one of the worst ever recorded years for shark attacks globally with a total of 16 recorded deaths (source Florida Museum Natural History). In 2006 only 4 people were killed. By contrast, each year across the globe several thousand people are killed by lightning strikes. Hopefully this keeps things in perspective!

Why is shark conservation necessary?

If the danger of sharks to humans is often over-stated, its a sad fact that the dangers humans pose to sharks are too rarely discussed. Few firm figures exist, but some people believe humans kill as many as 100 million sharks, directly or indirectly, every year. All the usual activities are to blame: direct fishing and hunting of course, but also environmental habitat changes, pollution and the competition for the fish that are part of the natural food chain that sharks depend upon.

In parts of the world some species of shark are showing signs that their population is declining for all the above reasons. In other areas, the reason for the decline is less understood and more research is needed. Paradoxically, in some other locations the local shark population may be actually increasing, though the reasons for this are equally unclear. Sharks have been around on Earth living as major predators for about 400 million years, yet in many respects they remain mysterious. Thats why shark conservation is important – theres much thats in need of clarification and you could help play a part in that process of discovery.

What is a shark conservation – holiday or sabbatical?

There are various forms of shark related activity holidays/sabbaticals in many parts of the world, such as South Africa and some Indian Ocean countries. You will be diving with sharks and using state-of-the-art equipment to film, tag and track their movements. Youll be collecting this data and inputting into local and global modelling systems. You may be doing likewise for other species that are known to be part of the sharks natural food chain.

These are serious activities and youll probably be diving without cages. Youll learn a huge amount about these wonderful creatures and get the chance to experience them in their natural environment, while in the company of experts. Youll be given training of course. Some holidays may demand that you have scuba skills in advance, although others will include some basic sub-aqua training. All equipment is typically provided.

These shark conservation centres also include accommodation and food – and they dont forget that youre on leave! Many are based in beautiful locations and youll also have the chance to experience the local country other than as a tourist. There are also opportunities for those on gap years or taking a career break to stay longer and make a greater contribution.

Giving something back to the planet

A shark conservation holiday will not only offer you the chance to give something back to the Earth but also to do something thats completely different. You can say farewell to the crowded tourist beaches and the queues to watch that local lace-making demonstration. Working in shark conservation could open your eyes to a new world!

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