Saturday, April 16, 2011
Tiger Sharks Killed for Eating Leatherback Turtles
Posted by Shark Defenders
This photo depicts the head of an adult leatherback turtle that had just been found in the stomach of a tiger shark. The photo was taken last week at a dock near Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands.
Sandy Point is one of the few places on the planet where leatherback turtles, a species listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, are known to lay their eggs. Year after year adult leatherbacks return to the same stretch of beach to lay a clutch of eggs, their only hope of producing the next generation of turtles. Tiger sharks, a near threatened species, have fed off the annual aggregate of turtles for millions of years.
Tiger sharks are apex predators and sit at the top of the food chain. Their natural diet includes many large animals, including Hawaiian monk seals, several species of albatross, and sea turtles.
This time of year, the leatherbacks at Sandy Point start coming ashore, and there were reports of as many as seven 4-meter long tiger sharks patrolling the area. The contents of this shark's stomach clearly substantiate those stories.
The person who sent me these photos said that the killing of this shark was not instigated by the local government or the national wildlife refuge; local fishermen just wanted to do something to protect the turtles.
It is easy to understand the want to protect the turtles, they are critically endangered and their existence probably provides some tourism dollars to the St. Croix economy. However, to put it simply, sharks eat turtles. Sea turtles evolved about 250 million years ago and have most likely been a part of sharks' diet ever since.
Sharks are not to blame for driving sea turtles towards extinction. In the last few decades turtle nesting habitat has been destroyed to make way for hotels and condos, and turtles have been killed by the thousands (millions?) for their meat and as bycatch. Their nests are also raided for their eggs, destroying their ability to reproduce and create the next generation of turtles.
Killing sharks to protect turtles is misguided. While the turtles are critically endangered, they are still food for tiger sharks, whose populations are near threatened with extinction themselves.
Sharks have eaten sea turtles for 250 million years. Nothing we do will change the fact that sharks eat turtles. Just as sure as the turtles return to the same beach year after year to lay eggs, the sharks return year after year to feed.
Humans likely kill more leatherbacks and other sea turtles each year than sharks do, that is why they are endangered in the first place. What is needed is better management of humans, not better management of sharks.
Killing sharks is not the answer to bring leatherbacks back from the brink of extinction.
The real threat is people.
The full set of photos are posted to the Shark Defenders Facebook Page.
Update: The Virgin Islands Daily News published a story a few hours after we published our blog. The story in the paper is pretty much the same as the story we got from our source, but also raised concerns about the perceived dangers of sharks.