Seventeen shark species are now facing extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The news follows mounting evidence in recent years that sharks, despite their ferocious bite and size, are uniquely vulnerable and sinking in population numbers.
“Our results are alarming and yet not surprising, as we find the sharks that are especially slow-growing, sought-after, and unprotected from overfishing tend to be the most threatened,” said Professor Nicholas Dulvy, the IUCN's Shark Specialist Group (SSG) co-chair based at Simon Fraser University, in a statement.
The speedy, iconic shortfin mako shark is of particular concern, seeing a 60 percent decrease in numbers in the Atlantic in the last 75 years. It is the fastest-swimming shark in Earth’s oceans, able to reach bursts of an incredible 68 kilometers (42 miles) per hour.
However, its speed can’t outswim human demand for them. Its sleek body is highly sought after for meat consumption, shark-fin soup, and liver oil extract. Considered a delicacy in Asia, overfishing has put them under significant pressure. Despite this, they are not currently subject to international fishing quotas.
Fifty-eight shark species were evaluated in the latest assessment of the IUCN's famous Red List of threatened species. In total, six of the shark species were listed as "critically endangered” and 11 as "endangered" or "vulnerable" to extinction. Three species were on the list for the first time: the whitefin swellshark, the Argentine angel shark, and the smoothback angel shark.
It’s estimated that 100 million sharks are killed each year. Shark finning has led to a spike in deaths, contributing to a fair chunk of the kills. The practice involves cutting the creature’s iconic fin off and tossing the rest into the ocean, where, unable to swim, it drowns or dies of blood loss. Although it is banned in US waters, it remains legal in others.
“The nine Australian sharks that remain at serious risk are mostly deep-water species that are exceptionally slow-growing and thereby ill-equipped to withstand even modest fishing pressure,” said Dr Peter Kyne of Charles Darwin University, who serves as the SSG Red List Authority Coordinator.
The greeneye spurdog is one such creature, with pregnancies that last an incredible three years. Their litters range in size from four to 15 embryos.
“To turn the tide and allow shark and ray recovery, the SSG is calling for immediate national and international fishing limits, including complete bans on landing those species assessed as Endangered or Critically Endangered. The need for action is urgent,” says Sonja Fordham, SSG Deputy Chair based at Shark Advocates International,” in an IUCN statement.
There may be a saving grace for the mako shark, however. In May, governments from around the world will vote on a proposal to list the shortfin mako on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The Appendix II would not ban the fishing or trading of the species, but it would regulate it further, making countries demonstrate their catch is legal and sustainable before engaging in international trade.