Marine debris is an ever-growing threat to animals in the oceans.

Plastic pollution affects a variety of marine species including turtles, cetaceans and seals. But little is known about the susceptibility of sharks and rays to this threat.

New research led by Kristian Parton, Tamara Galloway and Brendan Godley at the University of Exeter, suggests that the threat of entanglement within marine debris for sharks and rays is significantly underreported. This issue is of clear animal welfare concern.

Collaboration between the Shark Trust, the University of Exeter and citizen scientists, will help shed more light on this issue.

The Shark and Ray Entanglement Network (Sh.a.R.E.N.) aims to collect more data on the susceptibility of sharks and rays to entanglement within marine debris.

The project aims to identify:

  • Species that may be more at risk.
  • Global entanglement hotspots in the world’s oceans.
  • Types of marine debris affecting sharks and rays.

And to do this we need YOUR help!

You can submit your sightings of sharks and rays that have become entangled in marine debris - whether plastic packaging or fishing gear.

We’re calling on all those who may encounter these entangled animals. Whether you're a beach goer, snorkeler, scuba diver, angler or fisherman - we want to hear from you.

Bycatch vs Entanglement

To help make this project a success it's important to distinguish between entanglement and bycatch.

  • Bycatch - the unwanted catch of non-targeted shark/ray species in active fishing gear.

  • Entanglement - the process by which animals become entwined or trapped within human-made debris – excluding those bycaught in active fishing gear.

Research has shown that the most common type of debris entangling sharks and rays is ghost fishing gear. This is fishing gear that's been lost or abandoned at sea and drifts around indiscriminately catching marine animals. There's often confusion between a shark entangled in drifting fishing gear and a shark caught as bycatch. For this project we're excluding all animals that are caught as bycatch.

Here we need you to make a judgement call. If you encounter a shark or ray caught in fishing gear, it's important to determine if this is active or passive.

  • Active - If the fishing gear is attached to a boat or a buoy and looks like it will be returned to by fishermen, then that fishing gear is active. So any animal caught in this is considered as bycatch.

  • Passive - If the fishing gear appears old, worn or abandoned and has entangled animals then this is ghost fishing gear and we want to hear from you! Perhaps it's washed up on a beach, or drifting freely in the water with no sign of fishing boats nearby.

If you see any sharks/rays entangled in this type of fishing gear, please document and record the incident via our online recording form.

Record Your Incident

Banner image © Terry Goss

Related Links:

Click here to find out more about the research that led to the creation of this project

Logos - Exeter University Marine and the National Environment Research Council

Project in partnership with Exeter University Marine

Entanglement research funded by the National Environment Research Council