Every year since 1988, Shark Week has fascinated television viewers. A combination (often unevenly represented) of fact and fiction, Shark Week sometimes terrifies but more often inspires viewers. This year, shark advocates are trying to popularize other sentiments during the week, like highlighting the variation between kinds of sharks by using the hashtag #DiverseSharks. Although only a handful of the more than 400 species of sharks ever make it onto television, the characteristics that varying species of sharks possess are more different than you can probably imagine. Another hashtag, #DontFearSharksFearFORThem, encourages audiences to focus on the challenges that threaten many sharks with extinction.
Sharks are amazing ocean predators and some of the most inspiring creatures in the sea. But elasmobranchs, the class of cartilaginous fish that includes sharks, rays, skates, and sawfish, are in deep trouble across the globe. Unfortunately, 25% of shark and ray species are currently listed as critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Just this year, the IUCN announced an upgraded threat level to endangered for the shortfin and longfin mako sharks, because of a 90% decline in the Atlantic over the past 75 years.
And rays are even worse off than sharks: in the group of species known as ‘shark-like rays,’ all six species of giant guitarfishes and nine out of 10 species of wedgefishes are now listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. All species of sawfish and more than three dozen skate, electric ray, and stingray species are also critically endangered or endangered.
Defenders of Wildlife is working across the oceans of the world to protect sharks and rays from the constant onslaught of threats, including targeted catch, fisheries bycatch, shark finning and threats to the ocean ecosystem. These populations are already hard to monitor and compliance reviews and capacity building are extremely important for shark and ray conservation. We continue to strongly support a prohibition on at-sea shark fin removal. Because of its many practical advantages, the fins-naturally-attached method is mandated in the EU, Central America, Canada, the United States, and much of South America.
Oceanic Whitetip Sharks and Giant Manta Rays
Today, on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for failing to protect oceanic whitetip sharks and giant manta rays from being captured and killed in U.S. fisheries in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. The oceanic whitetip shark is one of the ocean’s most efficient top predators. It has suffered population declines of up to 88% in the Atlantic Ocean. The giant manta ray, the world’s largest ray with a wingspan of up to 29 feet, has seen its populations plummet by up to 95%. Both species have suffered these declines because of overfishing – either through intentional targeting or by getting captured or killed by fishing gear aimed at other animals. In January 2018, these species were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act following listing petitions from Defenders, triggering mandatory obligations to protect them from overfishing in U.S. fisheries. Both are listed in CITES Appendix II, the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the Sharks MoU.
Indiscriminate fishing practices like using longlines and drift gillnets are outdated. We can’t keep fishing this way while sharks, manta rays and other accidental victims head towards extinction. As the agency charged with both conserving these imperiled species and managing U.S. fisheries, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service is under a double obligation to comply with the Endangered Species Act’s mandate to ensure the survival and recovery of the oceanic whitetip shark and giant manta ray.
Manta and Devil Rays and Whale, Silky and Hammerhead Sharks
In July, Defenders and our partners were at the 94th meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission and its Compliance Committee to advocate for mobulid rays, whale sharks and silky sharks. We focused on these species because of the low reproductive capacity that leaves most of them particularly vulnerable to overexploitation. We remain deeply concerned about the perilous status of shark and ray populations in the Eastern Pacific, and the associated lack of basic safeguards. We submitted recommendations that could begin to address these concerns for each species.
Mako Sharks and Wedgefish
In August 2019, Defenders and participants from around the world will be in Geneva, Switzerland, for the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). At CITES, we will be advocating for a proposal co-sponsored by 56 countries to add the shortfin and longfin mako sharks to CITES Appendix II, as well as guitarfishes and wedgefishes, as a measure that will regulate the international trade of these species and ensure that trade is sustainable, legal and traceable.
Support our efforts by sharing #CITES4Sharks leading up to CoP18!
As millions around the world turn their attention to the ocean for Shark Week, it is important to highlight the threats marine predators continue to face from humans. We should be more afraid of a world without sharks than of sharks themselves. Defenders is working around the world to protect these amazing inhabitants of our blue planet and we hope you stand with sharks of all sizes and shapes all year long.