Genoa – The man who wants to save sharks knows that, first of all, he has to dismantle a series of clichés. «The sea represents the unknown and the creature that moves on the bottom and then suddenly surprises us offshore is an unconscious fear. We are anchored in Spielberg but reality says something else. Thing? That man is the shark’s worst enemy. Not the other”.
The man who wants to save sharks is called Massimiliano Bottaro, he is 45 years old and from his degree thesis – in 2000, in Biology, at the University of Genoa – is dedicated to the most feared marine predator. To study it. And to make sure that sharks can swim past the black hole of extinction. In the Mediterranean Sea, according to IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) data, at least half of the rays (16 species out of 32) and 54 percent of sharks are at serious risk of disappearing. Bottaro is a researcher at the Anton Dohrn zoological station in Naples: he has created an application, called SharkApp, to involve fishermen and “common” citizens in a mapping. And he is at the helm of the “LifeElife” project, funded by the European Union, to combat what is the number one risk for these creatures in the Italian seas: by catch. That is: accidental fishing. Even in the Ligurian Sea.
Mako sharks, blue sharks, dogfish, checkers: what is accidentally left in the nets of Ligurian fishermen – and in particular of those who carry on trawling – tells of an emergency to be stopped. And a population present in our seas, including basking sharks. “A first system will be to insert the Sed, Shark Excluder Device, into the nets, a grid that prevents accidental capture – Bottaro highlights – another system will be the introduction of circular hooks that allow you to free what is brought to the ground incorrectly with the longline pelagic. Fishermen play a fundamental role in the sustainable management and conservation of marine biodiversity and are with us, as invaluable allies, in this project ».
How many sharks are there in the Ligurian and Italian seas? «They are creatures that suffer from a collective gaze which is certainly very different from that which one has towards dolphins or turtles» answers Bottaro. “Wrong, I say. But it is so. And, even on a scientific level: Life programs have existed since 1992 and yet in 29 years only two projects have involved sharks. And this is the first that involves many different realities, from the world of research to that of professional fishermen », Bottaro highlights. A shark-saving action that will involve eight ports of Italy, the Aquarium of Genoa, universities and research bodies: Bottaro is now in Naples but counts, together with the research manager Paolo Guidetti and the former president of the Marine Area Protected by Bergeggi, Simone Bava, to develop LifeElife in the new Genoese headquarters of Anton Dohrn.
«University scholars like Sara Ferrando, Luca Lanteri, Fulvio Garibaldi they are great shark experts at work in Genoa. The goal is to work all together – says Bottaro – making Genoa a capital of biodiversity protection. On the reproduction front, to give a practical example, the potential of a tuna is enormous, that of a shark is a maximum of a dozen young and with a late sexual maturation. Any accidental capture weighs heavily for the continuation of the species ». They are creatures to be discovered: «Not everyone knows, for example, that these predators have a marked sensitivity to electricity. They do nothing to be nice, they are not tameable like dolphins, they are fundamental in their role at the top of the food chain in maintaining the entire ecosystem and have very few enemies: the killer whale and man ». In China, shark fin soup is still a difficult ‘status symbol to eradicate. It is something to show off, the organoleptic value of that dish is nil ». In the Mediterranean, however, the catches are accidental. And to face. “Ten people are killed by sharks every year around the world. How many sharks, on the other hand, do we kill? In 2015 we did a study: about 14,065 tons of sharks and rays in the Mediterranean had been accidentally caught. We are their enemies ».
The species to be protected in the Mar Nostrum
Isurus oxyrinchus (mako shark) is a protected species under the Barcelona Convention and the Bern Convention. Its Mediterranean population has been assessed as endangered. The main threat is targeted and incidental fishing with surface longlines and less often with nets.
A mako shark
Fishing for thresher shark as well as for all species of the genus Alopias is prohibited under directive 120/2018. The Mediterranean population has been assessed as endangered due to accidental fishing. Foxfish feed mainly on small epipelagic fish, squid, crustaceans and rarely on seabirds.
The thresher shark
The dogfish (Squalus acanthias) is a highly migratory species that forms schools separated by size and genus. It feeds on jellyfish, squid and a large variety of bottom fish, shrimp and crabs. The Mediterranean population has been assessed as endangered, but there is no protective measure.
The basking shark is all over the Mediterranean. As explained on the LifeElife website, from which the information in these cards is taken, it is an oviparous species, with low fertility and a long gestation period and gives birth to up to 6 young. Its Mediterranean population has been assessed as endangered and the species is protected.
The basking shark