Are sharks worth more caught on camera or a hook?

The world’s oceans as safari parks?

When it comes to some of the most amazing sea creatures, increasingly we’re packing away our fishing rods and reaching for our cameras.

Here we take a look at some spectacular fish and marine mammals now worth more alive than dead.

Sharks

Shark

This lot got a bad rep thanks to Jaws
Source: National Wildlife Federation

Steven Spielberg’s iconic film, Jaws made a monster out of the shark.  But of around 480 species, only four are responsible for most attacks on humans. Great whites, tigers, bull sharks, and oceanic white tips are dangerous to man, but the fact remains that most sharks seldom go near a human being, far less attack one.

But as well as being demonised, sharks are prey to humans on a massive scale. Shark fin soup is a Chinese delicacy, and with the rise and rise of the Chinese economic machine, the soup is more in demand than ever.

But now there’s hope that in future this apex predator will be better protected from shark fishermen.  New figures show that shark tourism generates a whopping $314 million a year.

With increasing numbers of thrill seeking tourists willing to pay to enter the shark cage this figure is set to rise to $780 million in the next 20 years.  As the value of a live sharks goes up, so does the incentive to protect them. Good news for our sharp fanged friends.

Manta ray

Ray

A single Manta ray contributes $100,000 to tourism
Source: Wallpapers Free Review

Manta rays are famed for the supreme elegance with which they ‘fly’ through the warm tropical waters they live in.  But unfortunately for them, apart from their value as meat, they are also highly desired as ingredients in Chinese medicine.

Despite there being no evidence that manta ray has any medicinal value, their cartilaginous gill rakes are used to treat a wide range of non-related ailments, from chicken pox to cancer.

But whereas a Manta on a slab at a Sri Lankan fish market is worth around $40, alive, one of these wonderful fish can fetch a fortune.

During its lifetime, a single specimen living off the Maldives contributes an estimated $100,000 to the tourism industry – surely enough to see fishermen swap fishing tackle for scuba gear.

Whales

Whale

The whale watching industry is worth $2.1 billion, take that whalers!
Source: Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Some species of whale were hunted almost to extinction, and even now, despite decades of protection, stock levels of some of them stand at less than one percent of their original level.

These animals are now well loved by most of us – particularly those with an interest in the marine environment – sea anglers for one.

So you’ll be delighted to know that world wide, the whale watching industry is worth a colossal $2.1 billion.  In 2008, 13 million of us in 119 countries took to the sea to watch whales.

Although whaling is still practised by fishermen in several corners of the world, the increasing value of live animals must surely bring hope for the future for these giants of the deep.

Turtles

Turtle

Turtles are worth three times more alive than dead
Source: Melina Beach Turtle Hatchery

Turtle meat is said to be delicious, but if like growing numbers of anglers you’d rather turn vegetarian than see this wondrous creature disappear from our seas forever, take heart because there is hope.

In areas where turtles are killed for meat, eggs, shells and leather, the industry is worth just under $600 million.  Quite a total for the developing countries where turtles come ashore.  Well you’d think so but compared to the money to made from turtle tourism, the figure is literally a drop in the ocean.

So how much are shell backs worth alive?  Three times as much.  Sustainable fishing beats turtle targeting hands down.

Seals

Seal

A single seal pup skin is worth just £4
Source: Free Reporter

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the fur trade had all but died a death – but sadly it lives on.  In Namibia, thousands of seal pups continue to be killed for their fur on the same beaches visited by seal watching tourists.

But demand for pelts is not what it was and a single skin is now worth as little as £4.  In 2008 the seal hunt generated a paltry £320,000.

Compare that to the £1.3 million gained from tourist pounds over the same period.  This puts great pressure on the Namibian government to end the slaughter of seal pups.  Great ammunition for seal conservationists.