Not-So-Super Predators

An interesting study was published last week comparing human predators to animal predators.  The subject of the four-decade study was the predator-prey hunt of wild animals, including fish populations, and included data from every continent except for Antarctica.  One of the study’s conclusive findings?  Human predators not only target and kill large, fully grown animals in the wild, “as much as nine times the rate of other predators,” but they also exploit mature and adult species of fish – meaning the biggest – at 14 times the rate as other marine predators.  The study even calls humans “a global super predator” right there in the publication.

Now before we beat our chests and beam with irrational pride over our self-appointed place on the food chain, this pattern certainly doesn’t speak to our intelligence or capacity for long-term planning.  ‘Cause here’s the part I found really interesting: when the study looked at nearly 400 fish species, it discovered that predator animals, like diving birds who eat fish or other marine animals, typically prey on the young and feeble.  In fact, those predators “overwhelmingly kill newborns and juveniles“.  What this means is that the adults who have reached sexual maturity and have the capacity to breed, are generally left alone and thus able to keep their population steady.  Whereas humans, “kill the more mature animals that are in their reproductive primes,” which has an enormous impact on current fish population and sustainability.  (A prime example of this: I was recently researching how caviar is “harvested” from sturgeon fish.  Humans catch and kill a female sturgeon just as she is preparing to lay her eggs.  They cut her open, scoop them out and sell them as a “delicacy” to suppliers for overpriced restaurants. Guess whose on the endangered species list now?)

The study was not conducted from an animal rights perspective but from a conservation perspective.  According to one of the above-linked articles, a professor in the U.S. who specializes in predator ecology says this study, “is a big step forward in understanding the effects of humans killing wild animals.”  The fact that animal predators operate by pursuing juveniles, “shows that nature works in a very sustainable fashion and nature is marvellous in the way it works.” He adds: “But there is a problem when humans get involved or interfere.”  No shit.  Even the lead author on the study states: “There is no question that our exploitation has led to massive ecologic change”.

It’s not just the size of animals humans are hunting and taking either – it’s the amount. In the same article noted above, it gives the example of the three-spined stickleback fish: these fish are small so they have many predators but “overwhelmingly” those predators, “took the babies and never more than five per cent of the adults in a year.”  Whereas ten kilometres away from those little fish, humans are preying on full-grown “herring, salmon, halibut, crab….and not taking five per cent but 50, 60, even 80 per cent of the adults.”

The aforementioned lead author, who fishes and hunts himself (?!??) admits that while larger prey has, “remarkable short-term benefits” (like making it easier to process into food), it’s a “long-term loser.”  The example of the Atlantic cod he gives in this article (and its subsequent population collapse) is another fascinating yet sad example of our short-sightedness.

None of this overfishing by humans is necessary.  What’s most troubling is that a lot of this is simply due to ego: bigger is better, right?  Even the lead author acknowledged, “No one mounts a small fish above a fireplace.”

Trophy hunting can take all forms.  Not all victims will be beloved lions from Zimbabwe and not all hunters will be wealthy dentists from Minnesota.  Hunting and killing to simply say, “Look what I did!” is hardly anything to boast about and as for factory farming, the industrialized imprisonment and slaughter of millions of animals every single year is about as far from “hunting and gathering” as we can get.

People often point to the animal kingdom as a way to justify their desire and “need” to eat meat.  But if you’re going to compare yourself to the animal kingdom, then let’s take other examples from them too.  Marine animals don’t overfish and that’s all they eat!  So why the hell are we cutting into their food supply, decimating their numbers and jeopardizing our own environment and survival?  Is this really a sign of intelligence on our part or a collective ego that’s been left unchecked for far too long? Just because humans have no natural predators outside of our own species, does this give us the right to incessantly prey on everyone else?

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2 thoughts on “Not-So-Super Predators

  1. Marisa says:

    Very interesting read Nicola…thanks for posting!!


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