Did you know that this Friday is Endangered Species Day? The 15th Annual Endangered Species Day, we might add—a turtle-y awesome time to learn about endangered and threatened species at the Aquarium!
Let’s take dive into Elasmobranchs, a subclass of cartilaginous fish the includes sharks, rays, skates, and sawfish. At the Aquarium, we have several different species of shark, largest being the sand tiger shark. Sand tiger sharks are currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With one of the lowest reproduction rates of all sharks, female sand tiger sharks will only birth two pups each cycle, contributing to their IUCN status. Additionally, as with many other shark species, shark finning continues to be a major contributor to worldwide declines in their population and has pushed many species to unprecedented low numbers.
Another Elasmobranch resident of our Dangerous Lagoon is the sawfish. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada has two green sawfish—a male and a female! Known for their rostrum or “saw,” the green sawfish is critically endangered. In fact, there are five known species of sawfish and all are either critically endangered or endangered. In addition to being slow to reach maturity and reproduce, the sawfish is easily entangled in discarded fishing gear, and is facing the loss of their coastal habitats due to human activity. Unfortunately, the sawfish rostrum is also a valuable trophy, which leads to active hunting of the species.
Flapping around Ray Bay are the Aquarium’s majestic spotted eagle rays! These graceful animals are one of the largest species of eagle ray and are known for jumping up out of the ocean—sometimes mistakenly into a passing boat! Once again, their low reproduction potential, with only one to four pups a litter, contributes to their status of near threatened. Although they are not commercially fished, they are often entangled in commercial nets accidentally.
Lastly, in Dangerous Lagoon, are the green sea turtles. These beautiful creatures are listed as endangered with the IUCN. Sadly, human activity is the root cause of their decline. Sea turtles are susceptible to humans at all stages of their life cycle. Females lay their eggs on very particular beaches, and with coastal development and beach-goers, the eggs are very vulnerable from the moment they are laid. For those that do survive, hatch, and venture out to sea to mature, green sea turtles may become ensnared in discarded fishing gear or may accidentally ingest the plastic waste that has been building up in our oceans for decades.
Luckily, you can help these species rebound! A common theme with these endangered and threatened animals is bycatch, and an easy way to make sure that you are not contributing to unsustainable fishing practices is to learn about sustainable seafood labels and carry a small guide. You can visit our friends at OceanWise for one!
A little closer to home: did you know that all native Ontario turtle species are either threatened, endangered, or a special concern? Turtles are usually on the move from April to September, so when you venture out onto the roads, please be sure to slow down around watersheds, especially if you see a turtle crossing sign.