Over 1000 sharks and rays entangled in plastic

Over 1000 sharks and rays have become entangled in plastic across the world’s oceans, reports in academic papers and social media have revealed.

University of Exeter scientists studied existing published studies that uncovered 557 sharks and rays have been entangled in plastic, spanning 34 species in oceans including the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian.

Almost 60% of these animals were either lesser spotted dogfish, spotted ratfish or spiny dogfish.

On Twitter, the researchers found 74 entanglement reports involving 559 individual sharks and rays from 26 species including whale sharks, great whites, tiger sharks and basking sharks.

The researchers believe the true number is likely to be far higher, as few studies have focused on plastic entanglement among shark and rays.

The study says such entanglement – mostly involving lost or discarded fishing gear – causes suffering and should be a major animal welfare concern.

Both data sources suggested ‘ghost’ fishing gear (nets, lines and other equipment lost or abandoned) were by far the most common entangling objects. Other items included strapping bands used in packaging, polythene bags and rubber tyres.

‘One example in the study is a shortfin mako shark with fishing rope wrapped tightly around it,’ said Kristian Parton, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation.

‘The shark had clearly continued growing after becoming entangled, so the rope – which was covered in barnacles – had dug into its skin and damaged its spine.

‘Although we don’t think entanglement is a major threat to the future of sharks and rays, it’s important to understand the range of threats facing these species, which are among the most threatened in the oceans.’

The paper was published in the journal Endangered Species Research.

In April, Environment Journal interviewed Michiel Roscam Abbing, author of the book Plastic Soup that details the vast amount of plastic that is polluting the oceans.

We asked him how can governments better regulate the fishing industry to stop ‘ghost nets’ being dumped in the sea.

‘This industry is very difficult to regulate because nobody sees what is happening at sea,’ he said.

‘It is very worrisome for instance that none of the mega-fishing companies includes the problem of ghost nets in their agenda. It is clear that voluntary measures will have hardly any effect.

‘Governments must take this issue seriously and implement regulation. Options include a deposit scheme for fishing nets, or satellite tracking systems that can trace abandoned or lost nets.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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