According to a newly published study in the journal Endangered Species Research, science has been underestimating the number of sharks and rays getting entangled in discarded marine plastic. Abandoned fishing gear was to blame in the majority of cases.
Scanning scientific literature, as well as Twitter, for reports on the entanglement of elasmobranchs, the researchers discovered evidence of over 1,000 entangled individuals, but the number was not the significant find.
“Our study was the first to use Twitter to gather such data, and our results from the social media site revealed entanglements of species—and in places—not recorded in the academic papers,” commented Brendan Godley, Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Exeter in the UK, in a news release.
In the academic literature, the scientists found evidence of 557 entanglements involving sharks and rays in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. The figures encompassed 34 species and found that spotted dogfish, spotted ratfish and spiny dogfish were the most commonly reported victims. Among the Twitter reports, the researchers found 559 separate references to entanglements involving 26 species of sharks and rays, including whale sharks, great whites, tiger sharks and basking sharks.
While entanglement in plastic waste typically doesn’t pose a significant threat to sharks and rays, “[t]here's a real animal welfare issue because entanglements can cause pain, suffering and even death,” said main author Kristian Parton, a researcher at Exeter's Center for Ecology and Conservation. “One example in the study is a shortfin mako shark with fishing rope wrapped tightly around it. The shark had clearly continued growing after becoming entangled, so the rope—which was covered in barnacles—had dug into its skin and damaged its spine.”
Read more here.
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