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Endangered Sharks Get OR Aquarium Spotlight

August 3, 2009

NEWPORT, Ore. - It is "Shark Week" at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. Oregon waters are home to about 15 shark species. Five of them can be seen at the aquarium, where visitors can watch them feed and learn more about their role in the ocean ecosystem.

Scientists say that, like many other aquatic species, sharks have been over-fished, and some types are endangered. Aquarium spokesperson Cindy Hanson says one of the biggest threats to sharks is a practice known as "finning."

"Finning is just horrible. People harvest the sharks for their fin alone, and discard the rest of the animal. It's used in shark fin soup. Fins also are harvested for the cartilage, due to health claims that cartilage is something that helps prevent or cure cancer."

Medical experts have found no evidence that shark cartilage fights cancer, Hanson says. Yet more than 73 million sharks are caught every year for their fins, according to estimates by the Global Shark Conservation Project, part of the Pew Environment Group. "Finning" is illegal in United States waters, but not elsewhere. Congress is looking at a "Shark Conservation Act" that would strengthen enforcement of the ban (bills S 850 and HR 81).

Most native Oregon sharks are less than 10 feet long, although much larger species also visit the coast, Hanson says.

"Oregon waters do have great white sharks, seasonally. They become huge - over 20 feet long, weighing more than 4,000 pounds - and they use ambush techniques to hunt."

Hanson says shark sightings are common but attacks are extremely rare; they are usually a case of "mistaken identity" by the shark.

The aquarium events run through August 8, coinciding with "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel. More information about "Shark Week" is available at www.aquarium.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR