Examples of Crimes Against Marine Life
There are many different kinds of dangers to the health and safety of marine life. However, two of the most primary threats are from manmade pollution and from poaching and overfishing. Two examples of these types of offenses are shark finning and sea litter:
• Finning is the act of removing a shark’s fins from its body for personal use or profit, after which its carcass is typically tossed back into the sea. Sharks that are captured are most often alive as their fins are mercilessly cut off from their bodies and even still when they are dumped back into the water, leaving them to be defenselessly eaten alive or bleed to death as they slowly sink to the bottom.
• An estimated 100 million sharks are killed annually worldwide for their fins. Over 95% of the shark is thrown away in this process, completely wasted. The rate of shark finning is also going up, not down, due to recent increase in demand. Studies suggest that most shark species will become extinct in the next few decades if shark finning continues at the rate it is going today because shark harvesting rates are much higher than shark reproduction rates.
• To date only 17 countries in the world have banned shark finning. More than 100 countries are involved in the business of trading shark fins, making it a multibillion dollar industry. The market is largely based in Asian countries like China, where shark fin soup is considered a delicacy and sign of prestige and dried shark fin is heralded for its alleged healing properties.
• The disappearance of sharks is likely to have devastating consequences for the marine ecosystem. Predictive modeling has shown that other fish, even those that are the normal prey of sharks, could experience total population crashes if sharks were to go extinct.
• People toss an approximate 2.5 million pieces of plastic into the oceans hourly.
• Trash in the ocean kills more than one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and turtles each year through ingestion and entanglement.
• Many dolphins, turtles, and sharks mistake balloons, plastic bags, and other debris for food and will eat them without being able to digest them. They then slowly starve to death from the obstruction or suffer internal trauma from the foreign object.
• Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been lost or left behind by in the ocean by fishermen. These nets entangle dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, manatees, whales, and other sea creatures. Animals caught in ghost nets starve, suffocate, and bleed to death if not freed. If an animal’s appendage is caught, it may cut off circulation to the limb and the animal can die of infection.
What’s being done about it?
Just as there are countless threats to the safety of aquatic animals, there are many widely varying laws that aim at protecting sea life and regulating our use of the oceans. One of the most important of these laws is the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972:
• The act prohibits, with certain exceptions, the taking of marine mammals in U.S. waters or by U.S. citizens on the high seas, as well as the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the United States.
• Without a rare permit, one may not hunt, kill, capture, or harass in any way marine mammals such as cetaceans, pinnipeds, sirenians, otariids, phocids, odobenids, sea otters, or polar bears in order to protect their populations from being irreparably depleted by human activities.
• The law is jointly enforced by multiple federal agencies who work together to monitor populations, prevent illegal activities, and prosecute infractions.
• Marine Mammal Protection Act 40th Anniversary webpage
How You Can Help
While such laws are a huge step in protecting the world’s oceans, everyone else must also do their part to join the effort as well. Being aware of safe and sustainable fishing practices, taking active steps to reduce one’s pollution, and reporting illegal activities are crucial to helping stop crimes against sea life.
• If you witness marine life cruelty or illegal activities, call the 24-hour NOAA Enforcement Hotline 1-800-853-1964
• If a beachgoer spots a distressed or stranded animal, they are required by law to keep their distance and instead encouraged to call authorities to report the animal. Visit http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/networks.htm to get contact information for your local stranding network.