World sharks are doomed. According to a study published this week in Marine Policy, our world is losing more than 100 million sharks every year. If significant efforts are not made to stop this decline, these incredible animals may soon be gone forever.
In the recently published paper, “Global Catches, Exploitation Rates and Rebuilding Options for Sharks” researchers from Dalhousie University teamed up with scientists from the University of Windsor in Canada, as well as Stony Brook University in New York, Florida International University (FIU) in Miami and the University of Miami.
They found that shark population all over the world are declining at an incredible rate.
“Sharks have persisted for at least 400 million years and are one of the oldest vertebrate groups on the planet. However, these predators are experiencing population declines significant enough to cause global concern,” explains lead author Boris Worm, professor of biology at Dalhousie.
Mike Heithaus, executive director of FIU’s School of Environment, Arts and Society says that sharks are not the only ones in trouble. It is the entire food chain.
“In working with tiger sharks, we’ve seen that if we don’t have enough of these predators around, it causes cascading changes in the ecosystem, that trickle all the way down to marine plants.”
He adds that if this happens it will also negatively affect the fishing industry.
Based on data collected for the latest study, shark deaths were estimated at 100 million in 2000 and 97 million in 2010. The total possible range of mortality is between 63 and 273 million annually.
The biggest threat to sharks is their massive hunt for shark fins. Sharks also have a slow maturity and reproduction rate, therefore, the population is not being given time to bounce back.
The researchers say that though adequate data for the shark catches are not available, the project data from news of illegal hunting and other sources suggests that they are being caught and killed at a much faster rate than at which they can reproduce.
“Sharks are similar to whales, and humans, in that they mature late in life and have few offspring’ said Boris Worm. “As such, they cannot sustain much additional mortality. Our analysis shows that about one in 15 sharks gets killed by fisheries every year. With an increasing demand for their fins, sharks are more vulnerable today than ever before.”
The researchers suggests greater protection for all species of sharks and a tax on import and export of shark products. This they say may help curb demand and generate income for domestic shark fisheries management.
“The findings are alarming, but there is hope. Existing regulations are a great start but we must ensure they are adequately enforced,” said Samuel Gruber of the University of Miami. “In addition, more nations must invest in sustainable shark fisheries management. This means introducing catch limits, trade regulation and other protective measures for the most vulnerable species and those that move across international boundaries.”
The findings of this research come at a crucial point when 177 governments from around the world are attending the March 3-14 meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok.
CITES is widely considered one of the best tools for protecting vulnerable species from extinction. Hammerheads, Oceanic whitetip, and porbeagle sharks are currently being considered for protection under CITES.
The researchers say that the most important issue right now is sustainability as sharks are the critical species that help sustain complete marine ecosystems.