Monday, July 16, 2012

Gill Raker Harvesting Joining Shark Finning

Shark finning is a major problem in the world. Every year millions of sharks are killed exclusively for their fins. As one would expect this has a horrific effect on the populations of sharks. In fact it is starting to become difficult to find enough sharks to fill the demand for fins. Recently there has been a rise in a new substitute for fins. This substitute is just as unsustainable to the Oceans as shark finning. The practice is the the harvesting of the gill rakers of both Manta and Mobula rays. 

This disgusting process is just as damaging to these rays as finning is to sharks. Naturally, Mantas and Mobulas will swim through the Oceans filter feeding, similar to whale and basking sharks, eating only the smallest of creatures such as plankton and krill. They have never injured a human yet the demand for their gill rakers has skyrocketed in the last few years. The ultimate question is why the demand has increased and just what the gill rakers are used for. 

The reasons for the high demand for gill rakers are virtually the same reasons there is such a large demand for shark fins...

1.) False Medicinal Reasons
Very similar to shark fins, many people falsely believe that ray gill rakers will help to cure disease, such as cancer and chickenpox,, increase respiratory functions, and lead to a better sex life. Just like shark, there is no scientific evidence of gill rakers doing any of the mentioned things. Still though, people believe that gill rakers do in fact do these amazing things and continue to demand them.

2.) Financial Appeal
Shark fins sell for a large sum of cash. Ray gill rakers sell for an incredible sum of cash. Currently the gill rakers of a ray is worth roughly $500USD per Kilogram in China. Sharks are vanishing from the seas and people are searching for an alternative to show off their status. In this case, the gill rakers of rays. Outside of the gill rakers, Manta and Mobula rays are virtually worthless. Just like shark meat, the meat of these rays are virtually worthless, often times being under $20 for an entire ray's worth. Mind you, Mantas can be very large rays. The skin of the ray is worth about as much as shark skin, virtually nothing. The cartilage of the ray is used for a substitute for shark cartilage pills. Again, it is virtually worthless in value.

3.) Very Loose Regulations
The harvesting of gill rakers is one of the least regulated and even reported slaughters going on in the world right now. Much like shark finning, if a nation does have a law to help protect rays, it is not enforced very well because of the financial situations of the countries. However, there are literally no noteworthy nations outside of Peru and Indonesia, that have any kind of restriction on harvesting rays. There aren't even any real regulations on Aquariums going out and collecting them. The lack of regulations probably has a lot to do with the lack of knowledge on the populations of these rays. Fisherman in several countries have reported a sharp decline in the size of the rays caught as well as the number. The same can be said with shark finning, countless numbers of smaller sharks are being killed off and fewer and fewer large sharks are being seen.

The threats that these rays face need to be cut out before things get just as out of hand as shark finning. Rays play an incredibly important role in the Oceans and eliminating them for nothing more than money and false medicinal cures is simply disgusting. We know so little about these animals yet we are simply killing them off. Nobody truly knows the life cycle of a Manta or Mobula ray, their populations, capabilities, their level of though, virtually nothing. All we truly know is that they are rays that eat the tiniest creatures in the Oceans. We know that they mature late in life and that they have a pretty good lifespan, but we don't know the details on how these animals really work. 

The fight to save rays is just getting started. The combined efforts of WildAid and Shark Savers have resulted in the project known as Manta Ray of Hope. The objective of the project is to raise awareness for these animals as well as trying to kill the incredibly fast rising demand for gill rakers. For more information on Manta Ray of Hope check out mantarayofhope.com 

My next blog featuring Manta and Mobula Rays will continue to bring their plight into the light and put some things that we do know out there about these truly amazing and beautiful creatures.


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