Cayman’s sorry shark tale continues

Two more carcasses found

DoE shark project officer Johanna Kohler hauls the dead Caribbean reef shark closer to shore to examine it. – PHOTO: DOE

Despite a ban on shark fishing and 10 years of focussed conservation effort, the apex predator remains vulnerable in Cayman’s waters.

The Department of Environment recovered two more dead sharks in May, both of which had been hooked and slaughtered.

A Caribbean reef shark was found by researchers on 28 May. It had been stabbed through the top of the head and had its lower jaw cut away. A second shark, also a reef shark, was found near Babylon Reef, North Side, on 16 May. The shark had been disembowelled and appeared to have had a hook removed from its mouth.

Researchers have previously indicated that many shark fatalities are likely linked to accidental catch by fishermen. The Department of Environment has found evidence of six shark deaths this year, though officials believe the number killed in Cayman’s waters is likely higher. In some cases the carcasses are thrown overboard and never found.

Despite those concerns, it is believed the number of shark deaths in Cayman’s waters is coming down.

Just last week, the Department of Environment and the UK-based Marine Conservation International marked a decade of joint research and conservation efforts in Cayman’s waters.

“To some extent, the attitude in Cayman toward sharks has changed over the past decade. Shark Conservation Cayman has spent a lot of time in local classrooms and talking to local fishermen about these crucial marine species,” Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the DoE, said. “Ten years ago, the prevalent view of sharks was ‘if you see one, kill it.’ I believe that people today have a better understanding of why sharks are important to us.”

Researchers say predators like sharks are essential to maintaining a balanced marine ecosystem and are a valuable tourism asset for Cayman’s diving industry.

Fishing for sharks, selling their fins or meat, or deliberately harming a shark is punishable under the National Conservation Law by a substantial fine and forfeiture of the vessel and equipment used in the offence.