Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sharks & Rays at the Vancouver Aquarium

When I say shark, do you immediately hear ominous music & envision a great white stalking a fishing boat? Jaws is pretty hard to forget, but not all sharks are like the big white in that movie.

A Mermaid's Purse, aka shark egg, at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Unfortunately, sharks are one of the most widely misunderstood animals in our oceans. Now more than ever, sharks & rays need to be protected to sustain their population. Our past habit of eradicating species we just didn't like--rattlesnakes, wolves, bears--included the gentle basking sharks in the waters off BC. This put basking sharks on the “endangered” list under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

But hey, sharks are scary killers right? What do we need them for? Why should we change our way of thinking & embrace these misunderstood creatures? For one, sharks are a part of the natural ecosystem & serve an important function: they hunt & eat sick & dying animals. Just like any other ecosystem on our planet, when you remove a predator, the populations that it once controlled can grow to unsustainable numbers, having a snowball effect on through the environment.

Yup. This is a shark. A Tasselled Wobbegong, to be exact.
In an effort to raise awareness about the issues sharks & rays face, the Vancouver Aquarium is
highlighting secrets about them through their current feature The Secret World of Sharks and Rays. I was invited to a tour of the show last weekend & found it fascinating to see some of these animals in real life. We got to watch a shark & ray feeding, saw "mermaid's purses" (shark eggs), & got a very close-up view of my new favourite shark: the Tasselled Wobbegong.

I knew before going that sharks, skates, rays & ratfishes often fall victim to “bycatch” (unintended catch) in commercial fisheries, but I had no idea that the toll is in the millions annually. Along with the well-known sharks & rays, unknown species are also removed from our oceans. In addition to bycatch, up to 73 million sharks are killed every year for the global shark fin market. Because of these two issues & other ecological disasters, the world’s shark population is rapidly decreasing. We need to do something about it. Through The Secret World of Sharks and Rays, the Vancouver Aquarium hopes to educate people about the threats these animals face.

One of the easiest ways you can help conserve the diminishing shark population is to be Ocean Wise. Next time you’re dining out, look for the Ocean Wise symbol on the menu next to a seafood item for Vancouver Aquarium’s assurance that the dish you’re about to order is an ocean-friendly choice. When buying fish at the market, if you don't see the logos, ask!

Visit the Vancouver Aquarium to see and learn about the following sharks, skates, rays and ratfishes:

Blacktip reef sharks
Whitespotted bamboosharks
Southern Stingray
Zebra shark
Ocellated freshwater stingrays
Tiger stingrays
Xingu River rays
Blue-spotted fantail rays
Epaulette sharks
Tasseled wobbegong
Pacific spiny dogfish
Spotted ratfish

The Secret World of Sharks & Rays is on now until April 30th at the Vancouver Aquarium. If you're planning to go twice or more this year, get a membership! It's a great rainy day activity. You'll save on admission after two visits, plus you get 20% off at all their cafes & the gift shop. There are lots of other benefits--check out their membership page for more details.

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