Hundreds of sharks and rays get tangled up in plastic waste in the oceans around the world, according to an investigation by the University of Exeter (United Kingdom) published by the magazine 'Endangered Species Research'.
The scientists tracked existing published studies and Twitter for information, and found reports of more than 1,000 copies of shark and tangled rays. But they believe that the true number is likely to be much higher, since few studies have focused on this issue.
The study says that in most cases are due to lost or discarded fishing gear, which is a "much lesser threat" to sharks and rays than commercial fishing, but the suffering it causes is a major concern for animal welfare.
"An example found in the study was of a short-finned mako shark with a fishing line Surrounding it – highlights Kristian Parton of the Center for Ecology and Conservation at the Penryn de Exeter Campus in Cornwall. The shark had clearly continued to grow after getting tangled, so the rope, which was covered with barnacles, had stuck in its skin and damaged its spine. "
"Although we do not believe that these entanglements are a major threat to the future of sharks and rays, it is crucial to understand the variety of threats facing these species, which are among the most threatened of the oceans. Besides, he adds, there is a real problem of animal welfare because entanglements can cause pain, suffering and even death. "
The co-author, Professor Brendan Godley, coordinator of the marine strategy from the university, he regrets that, "due to threats of overfishing of sharks and rays, and the accidental capture during fishing of other species, the issue of entanglements may have been somewhat out of focus."
"We set out to remedy this. Our study was the first to use Twitter to collect such information, and our results from the social networking site revealed tangles of species, and in places, not recorded in academic documents," he explains.
The review of academic documents found reports of 557 sharks and rays tangled in plastic, covering 34 species in the oceans, including the Atlantic, the Pacific and India.
On Twitter, the researchers found 74 reports of entanglements involving 559 sharks and rays of 26 species, including whale sharks, great white, tiger sharks and basking sharks.
Both sources of data suggested that fishing gear 'ghosts (nets and other equipment lost or abandoned) they were by far the most common tangle objects. Other items included fastening bands used in packaging, polyethylene bags and rubber tires.
The study identified that sharks and rays in the open ocean are more likely to become entangled, as are those that live at the bottom of the sea, where materials such as nets loaded with dead fish sink and attract predators, which in turn get stuck.
Likewise, species that cover long distances appear at greater risk of encountering plastic waste and the same goes for sharks, which seem to be at greater risk than rays.
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