The importance of large animals

We know how the extinction of the dinosaurs completely changed the balance in nature and led to the emergence of large mammals.

But they are not the only large animals to play such a significant role. In this clip from Ted Radio Hour, George explains how returning wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 after a 70-year absence affected so many aspects of the ecology there, transforming it.

But what really surprised me was the important role of the great white shark. I learned a lot of interesting new things from this interview that Stephen Colbert had with Chris Fischer who is a member of the group Ocearch that does research on the giants of the ocean. The group tags sharks in order to track them and learn about their habits. You can follow the tagged sharks here. You can pick your favorite shark by name and follow its movements.

I had not realized that sharks play such a pivotal role in the ocean’s ecosystem and that without them the system would collapse. What was even more disturbing was to learn that 200,000 sharks are killed per day just for their fins and the rest of their bodies thrown away in order to make the expensive delicacy of shark fin soup for wealthy people to indulge in.

The Colbert Report
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(This clip aired on September 26, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)


  1. Suido says

    The delicate web of ecological relationships is fascinating, and apex predators are a convenient focus for learning about that. Unfortunately, some apex species are more charismatic/less dangerous to humans than others, and so different ecosystems get different treatment.

    I see killing sharks for fins is as bad a killing rhinos for horns or elephants for ivory. All equally reprehensibly and done at unsustainable levels by industrialised society.

  2. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    Those are just large carnivores. Large herbivores have even bigger effects on their environment.

  3. psweet says

    “Those are just large carnivores. Large herbivores have even bigger effects on their environment.”

    Except that large carnivores eat large herbivores, and directly influence both their numbers and their behavior.

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