Sharks are nowadays trending topic, but why?
Here is the answer: they have been banished for long time, pop culture have seriously damaged their image as killer machines, with nothing else in their agenda but to kill people.
Wait, killer whales are also named killer because of one reason! Yes, yet movies and other media have made sure to picture them as gorgeous special animals we need to protect, and this is true. It is as crude true we need Willy and Flipper as we also need the astonishing paraphyletic group of elasmobranchs!
That is why I am so concern on giving them a high spot in protection, free-ranging in nature, many shark and ray species are social, but what that does mean? It means these animals with a similar proportion brain/body mass as mammals and birds are also highly intelligent and evolve in complex relation with others, difference is, they do not evolve from a close ancestor and yet main instincts, reflects and neuronal basics remain equally in bot mammals and sharks, they do have other developed tools among millennia which we didn’t know until recent times.
Electrical sensory system, olfactive, visual or pressure through the lateral line are more or less different than what we already know that, at first sight, evidence is ignore assuming they are not intelligent because they do not behave likelihood. However, I strongly stand there is much more behind the scene, and the first step is looking at their socialization, interaction patterns, repetitive responses or personality that they might have as it has been demonstrated yet poorly studied so there is room for discovering and improvement.
First step of activity budget, then philopatry, nursey areas, mating areas if so, interaction within and between groups, use of sensory systems to communicate and forage, use of habitat, memory, cognition and neural system are among my goals to achieve shorter or longer in time.
Oh, that is really cool, but why loosing effort in such? The answer is obvious, we don’t love what we don’t know, and we don’t protect what we don’t love. Eventually sharks and rays must move from Herring (my apologies for it, it is just getting a balance at the end of the day, we also want to survive) to cetacean. In other words, they must have a range of protection as high as cetaceans, considering that protection for cetaceans must also improve. The achievement is not just protecting sharks, it is a mean to protect the whole environment as if we protect the apex predator (case of wolf, bear or eagle, to noun some terrestrial better protected counter partners) we will protect species dependent of those populations an so on, resulting in protection for the small to the large live form.
Madeira archipelago is the place I will launch my ideas as it is a prodigious environment for migratory and resident populations, bearing a wide variety of elasmobranchs of the Atlantic as they can breed and feed on these rich volcanic isles and seamounts on the presence of upwelling. They are also very interesting in terms of protected areas as large part of Portuguese waters are protected here, with more pristine areas than others allowing to compare populations and presence the effect of human activities.
Last but not least, Universidade de Madeira together with CIIMAR and Museo de Madeira support this project via Teresa Margarida da Silva, who is really enthusiastic about those thoughts.