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B.C.’s sharks

March 23rd, 2020

Sharks have a bad rap. Provincial experts know that sharks don’t deserve their bad reputation, much of it driven by sensationalist movies and media reports.

Two of B.C.’s leading scientists, Dr. Jackie King and Dr. Gordon McFarlane have teamed up to dispel these myths with their guide book Sharks, Skates, Rays and Chimera of British Columbia (RBCM $24.95), available May 29, 2020.

The vast majority of sharks, they say, “are cautious and placid, and many inhabit waters that exclude them from human contact.”

Fifteen species of sharks have been observed off B.C., 17 species of skates and rays, and one species of chimera — “a weird-looking fish that seems a mash-up of several different species.”

Sharks in particular play a crucial role in the ecosystem, being apex predators feeding at the top of the food chain. There are exceptions, like the basking shark that feeds on plankton. Prior to the 1960s, the basking shark with its large mouth for filtering plankton that can suck in the equivalent of 10,000 bottles of plankton-filled seawater in one hour, were plentiful in certain areas. Problems arose when basking sharks increasingly got tangled in B.C.’s commercial fishers’ nets and, as a result, became the subject of a directed eradication program. With fishery patrol boats outfitted with underwater knives, hundreds of these large gentle creatures were killed in B.C.’s coastal waters. Since the eradication program (which ended in 1970) basking sharks are rarely seen here.

Eradicating large sharks has been shown to have a cascading effect through the ecosystem as their prey populations will expand explosively and deplete other animals lower in the ecosystem such as scallops, clams and oysters. As usual, things never go very well when people try to “manage” ecosystems.

This book goes a long way to presenting sharks and their relatives as important creatures of the pacific northwest coastal waters, “worthy of respect, study, admiration and protection.”

All proceeds of the book are going to a conservation project, Predators in Peril.

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