Science 3 min read

Plastic Waste Entanglement Endangers Hundreds of Sharks and Rays

Plastic waste remains one of the world's biggest problems today. Its improper disposal has caused significant damage to the environment. Now, the lives of sharks, rays, and other marine animals are in danger due to plastic waste entanglement.

An adult shortfin mako shark entangled in fishing rope in the Pacific Ocean | Image Credit: Daniel Cartamil

An adult shortfin mako shark entangled in fishing rope in the Pacific Ocean | Image Credit: Daniel Cartamil

According to a new study, over a hundred sharks and rays in the world’s oceans are endangered by plastic waste entanglement.

Researchers at the University of Exeter examined several publications, including Twitter posts in search of sharks and rays entanglements. Although they discovered reports of over 1,000 entangled individuals, there could be more out there.

Before now, few studies have ever explored plastic entanglement in sharks and rays.

So, where do these entanglements come from?

The study revealed that the plastics are mostly from lost or discarded fishing gears. While they do threaten rays and whales as much as commercial fishing does, the animals’ suffering is still a cause for concern.

In a statement, researcher from Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus, Kristian Parton said:

“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.”

While entanglement may not seem like a threat to the future of these ocean species, the researchers think otherwise. According to Parton, since it can cause pain, suffering, and death, it raises an essential welfare issue.

How Plastic Waste Entanglement Threatens Sharks and Rays

Issues such as over-fishing of sharks and rays, as well as bycatch – accidental catching while fishing for other species – has distracted researchers from other threats. As a result, entanglement threat has stayed under the radar, until now.

For the study, the researchers at Exeter University decided to use Twitter – a first of its kind – alongside academic papers. This enabled the researchers to discover entanglement in places that have never been recorded in any other publication.

While reviewing academic papers, the researchers spotted reports of 557 sharks and rays entangled in plastic across 34 species. The oceans in these reports included Atlantic, Indian, and the Pacific.

Twitter, on the other hand, provided 74 entanglement reports, which involves 559 sharks and rays from 26 species. These include basking sharks, whale sharks, great whites, and tiger sharks.

Alongside the “ghost” fishing gears, other entangling objects present in the oceans include rubber tires, bands used in packaging, and polythene bags.

The researchers have worked with the Shark Trust to create an online report to collect more data on entanglement. That way, they could further explore this massive threat to sharks and rays in the oceans.

Read More: How Plastic Pollution Harms Oxygen-Producing Bacteria

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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