Studies about sharks are being conducted at Għajn Tuffieħa Bay by NGOs SharkLab Malta and The Gaia Foundation to find out if there is a particular time of year when they breed most.

Egg cases are found on most beaches, although they are normally empty and have been washed ashore, the foundation's project coordinator Daniela Agius explained.

"When we say we are doing shark studies, we are not only referring to the great white but to the entire shark family, including rays, dogfish and other such species," she said.

About 36 recorded species of sharks, ranging in size from the small velvet belly to the massive basking shark, are found around Malta. But the numbers and the frequency of sightings are on a downward spiral.

Of these 36 species, many live in the deep, or travel through Malta's territorial waters far from the coast. The chance of an encounter is remote; in fact, the only place you can be guaranteed a shark sighting is at the fish market, or from your local fish shop, a SharkLab presentation at The Gaia Foundation highlighted on Tuesday.

Sharks have been decreasing in massive numbers around Malta, within the Mediterranean and other seas year on year, with many species facing the real possibility of extinction. In the Mediterranean alone, blue shark populations have decreased by over 90 per cent in the last 10 years.

"Unless the attitude towards sharks changes soon, what hope do they have? Fishing bans and protected areas are some ways to reduce the slaughter but one of the most effective tools to secure their future is education and awareness," the presentation, called The Shark, pointed out.

SharkLab (Malta) aimed to expose sharks "for what they really are - magnificent, awesome, breathtaking and essential for the health and well-being of our oceans".

The presentation, held during the UN and EU International Year of Biodiversity, aimed at removing the label of "monster" and explaining how critical sharks were to humans, as well as the "horrors" of finning and the unrelenting pressure from fishermen.

With over 500 known species, sharks play a critical role within the marine ecosystem. Being apex predators, they keep the fragile balance. Through controlling other species, and removing diseased and weak prey, they maintain healthy populations of the species below them in the marine food chain.

"If we take sharks out of the equation, the impact on our waters is beyond comprehension," the presentation stressed.

In Malta, tourism is key and many visit to enjoy the range of life in its waters. "If we continue to decimate and damage the balance of marine life, then we are essentially affecting ourselves and our lives," the presentation underlined.

Once sharks have gone, they are gone forever, and SharkLab, together with other local NGOs, is determined to turn the tide in their favour.

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