Shark Extinction: When Predator Becomes Prey

sharks-extinctionPeople fear sharks, but it should be the other way around: sharks are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. Since the 1970s the shark population is estimated to have declined by 99 percent. All life forms play a crucial, essential role in their environment, which is why extinction is such a pressing issue. Without sharks some species will overpopulate causing further damage to the environment. Many species of Rays and Skates will become overabundant without sharks and therefore the fish they prey on (shellfish in this case) will also become extinct, causing a chain reaction of extinction. If shark extinction happens the ocean will fundamentally change. Therefore, so will human industries that rely on the ocean.

Shark extinction pose a threat to the fragile balance of the ocean climate, but it also indicates human agency has intruded onto ocean life to a dangerous extent. Surfmeisters reports that the demand for shark products must be reduced or eliminated and the practice of hunting sharks for their fins needs to end. Besides those contributing factors, the only other way to maintain the current population is to reduce the number of sharks caught in commercial fisheries.

To add to the devastation, sharks cannot repopulate at a rate that will sustain their current population, let alone recover the numbers of their former abundance. Sharks reach sexual maturity at a slow rate which ranges from anywhere between 7 and 25 years. Once they can reproduce they can usually only have 1 to 2 shark pups a year.

As of 2008 the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) listed 50 shark species that are at a high risk of going extinct, meaning they are labeled as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable. Beyond that another 63 sharks are approaching threatened status, meaning they are labeled either Conservation Dependent or Near Threatened. Shark Savers reports that many more species of sharks may be endangered, but not enough data collection exists to truly know the extent of or rate of extinction. The ten most endangered sharks are the Pondicherry Shark, the Dumb Gulper Shark, the Ganges Shark, the Bizant River Shark, the New Guinea River Shark, the Daggernose Shark, the Striped Dogfish, the Sawback Angelfish, the Smoothback Angel Shark, and the Angel Shark. The shark species that are labeled as “Very High Risk of Extinction” are the Borneo Shark, the Speartooth Shark, the Whitefin Topeshark, the Narrownose Smoothhound, the Great Hammerhead, the Argentine Angel Shark, the Hidden Angelshark, the Smoothback Angelshark, and the Angular Angelshark.

Shark Savers reports that “the most important step in stopping the international trade of endangered species is to agree on which species are endangered.” Fortunately, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is associated with the IUCN, has formed a union of 172 countries that try to work together to ensure that trade is not further threatening the endangered species. Unfortunately, CITES only has a few sharks on their list, but in 2002 began working for better recognition of shark endangerment.

But because CITES, like many other international organizations, is merely an agreement and has no enforcement mechanisms it is important to support groups working to save sharks. 

Stop Shark Finning offers a list of petitions to various countries and communities that propose the banning of removing shark fins. Please check out the website and sign all the petitions it lists in order to save sharks and therefore all the ocean life that depends on sharks!

Photo credit: swfsc.noaa.gov/uploadedImages/Divisions/FRD/Large_Pelagics/Sharks/Mako%20in%20water.png

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