HEATHER-LYNN’S HABITAT: Whitetip shark almost extinct
ONE OF THE shark species that populate the region’s waters is almost extinct and this may have ramifications for the marine eco-systems of the Caribbean.
The population of the region’s Oceanic Whitetip shark, known in Barbados as the dolphin shark, has declined by 99 per cent in the last 60 or so years, says Nikola Simpson. And this is one of the species caught by the island’s fisherfolk.
Simpson, who is part of the Barbados Marine Mammal Stranding Network, was addressing fisherfolk, divers and fisheries officials at a recent educational and awareness planning session for the development of a national plan of action for the conservation and sustainability of sharks in Barbados, at the Fisheries Division, Princess Alice Highway.
“There has been a decline in Ocean Whitetip of 99 per cent since 1950, so basically there aren’t many left and the Ocean Whitetip is actually one of the species caught most in Barbados,” Simpson explained.
Noting that the global population of sharks had massively declined, the shark expert said the numbers were hampered by the fact that they take a long time to mature, they reproduce only every few years and produce very few young.
“So this would work under natural conditions if humans and over-fishing weren’t involved. This would work and sharks would continue to survive. But now that we have the pressure of overfishing, the population will continue to plummet,” she said, adding that sharks were quite often misunderstood and mosquitoes killed more people than sharks.
Simpson further explained that if all the sharks were killed, there would be ecological repercussions “down the line”.
She said as a result of the decline in Ocean Whitetips, which used to feed on rays, the rays began to flourish and overgrazed clams “and clams were a million dollar industry”.
Simpson went on to reveal that there were 170 species of shark and ray in the region’s waters. Three thousand tonnes of shark were caught and harvested in the Caribbean, annually, with Trinidad accounting for the majority of that figure. Barbadian fishermen only captured ten tonnes a year.