Protection and maintenance of diverse shark populations by understanding the effect that overfishing has on ocean ecosystem food webs
In Sharks at Risk, Jean-Michel Cousteau and his team meet sharks face-to-face in two intense expeditions. The first takes place in French Polynesia in the Tuamotu Archipelago at Rangiroa, the second-largest coral atoll in the world and an underwater paradise that is famous for its large concentration of sharks. The second takes place off the coast of South Africa, at the Cape of Good Hope, where Jean-Michel Cousteau and others swim with the most feared of all sharks -- the great white. These powerful creatures play a vital role in the intricate balance that makes up the ocean ecosystem. Today, a new predator, the human, puts these amazing creatures at risk, giving sharks far more reason to fear us than we have to fear them.
Essential Principle #1: Earth has one big ocean with many features.
a. The ocean is the dominant physical feature on our planet Earth, covering approximately 70 percent of the planet's surface. There is one ocean with many ocean basins, such as the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian and Arctic.
h. Although the ocean is large, it is finite and its resources are limited.
Essential Principle #5: The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
a. Ocean life ranges in size from the smallest virus to the largest animal that has lived on Earth, the blue whale.
d. Ocean biology provides many unique examples of life cycles, adaptations and important relationships among organisms (symbiosis, predator-prey dynamics and energy transfer) that do not occur on land.
Essential Principle #6: The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.
b. From the ocean we get foods, medicines, and mineral and energy resources. In addition, it provides jobs, supports our nation's economy, serves as a highway for transportation of goods and people, and plays a role in national security.
c. The ocean is a source of inspiration, recreation, rejuvenation and discovery. It is also an important element in the heritage of many cultures.
e. Humans affect the ocean in a variety of ways. Laws, regulations and resource management affect what is taken out and put into the ocean. Human development and activity leads to pollution (point source, nonpoint source and noise pollution) and physical modifications (changes to beaches, shores and rivers). In addition, humans have removed most of the large vertebrates from the ocean.
g. Everyone is responsible for caring for the ocean. The ocean sustains life on Earth and humans must live in ways that sustain the ocean. Individual and collective actions are needed in order to effectively manage ocean resources for all.
Essential Principle #7: The ocean is largely unexplored.
a. The ocean is the last and largest unexplored place on Earth -- less than 5 percent of it has been explored. This is the great frontier for the next generation's explorers and researchers, where they will find great opportunities for inquiry and investigation.
c. Over the last 40 years, use of ocean resources has increased significantly; therefore the future of sustainability of ocean resources depends on our understanding of those resources and their potential and limitations.
Brainstorm all the ways that human activities affect the ocean ecosystem, both positively -- including benefits to humans from ocean resources -- and negatively, as well as things that humans can do differently to lessen negative effects and increase positive effects.
Use the Fish Are Animals Too lesson plan (PDF) to deepen your students' knowledge of the important role that biodiversity plays in the health of our ocean ecosystems.
Conduct library or Internet research and write a report on a famous diver. Look at the kind of science background a diver must have to do their job.
Theme: Ecosystem balance, food web
Location in Sharks at Risk: Introduction; Rangiroa; Night dive; Dolphin encounters; Great white sharks;
African penguins; Concluding monologue
Describe some specific predator-prey relationships that you have observed.
Describe what a predator-prey relationship can offer an ecosystem.
Describe how you think an ocean ecosystem could become unbalanced.
Focus for Viewing:
For the introduction, use question 1 from the Sharks at Risk Viewing Questions.
For Rangiroa, use questions 13 through 19 from the Sharks at Risk Viewing Questions.
For Night dive, use questions 1 through 5 from the Sharks at Risk Viewing Questions.
For Dolphin encounters, use questions 3 through 7 from the Sharks at Risk Viewing Questions.
For Great white sharks, use question 1 from the Sharks at Risk Viewing Questions.
For African penguins, use questions 1 through 5 from the Sharks at Risk Viewing Questions.
For Cousteau's dive and the concluding monologue, use questions 1 through 4 from the Sharks at Risk Viewing Questions.
Post-Viewing Discussion Questions:
Describe the shark's role as predator in the ocean ecosystem.
List specific examples of at least five predator-prey relationships that you observed.
Who is most affected by the decrease in shark populations?
Use the Fish Are Animals Too lesson plan (PDF) to deepen your students' knowledge and understanding of sharks as an integral part of their natural communities. Introduce the topic of or expand on your student's knowledge of food webs and predator-prey relationships.
Theme: Longline fishing, other human factors
Location in Sharks at Risk: Longline fishing; Fishing and finning; Fisheries; Concluding monologue
Describe all the different jobs a fisherman must do while catching fish.
List all of the human activities that you can think of that pollute the ocean or decrease its biodiversity.
Describe what you think longline fishing and shark finning are.
Focus for Viewing:
For Longline fishing, use questions 1 through 10 from the Sharks at Risk Viewing Questions.
For Finning, use questions 1 through 3 from the Sharks at Risk Viewing Questions.
For Fisheries, use questions 1 through 7 from the Sharks at Risk Viewing Questions.
For Concluding monologue, use questions 1 through 4 from the Sharks at Risk Viewing Questions.
Post-Viewing Discussion Questions:
Describe what you think the role of government could be in placing strict regulations on longline fishing, the use of fisheries and the practice of finning.
How do you think the economy would be affected if sharks were driven to extinction?
List different ways in which you could educate your community about what is going on in the oceans today. For use in a presentation, have your students create a collage poster board that shows images and data on ocean health and/or on human activities that affect the ocean. They can get images for the collage from the Internet and the Ocean Adventures download library. Involve your school by turning your presentations into a schoolwide ocean conference.
Elsie Ovrahim is a middle school science teacher in Oakland, CA who works as an independent contractor for KQED Education Network. Prior to this, she worked as an environmental consultant monitoring and managing hazardous waste removal projects around the Bay Area.
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