World’s Weirdest Sharks On The Brink Of Extinction, According To First Study Of Its Kind

The largetooth sawfish has the dubious honor of being both number 1 on this list, and the highest-ranked EDGE species in the world. (c) Simon Fraser University

A brand new report has revealed how some of the world’s weirdest sharks and rays are inching towards extinction. From largetooth sawfish to electric rays, guitarfish to ghost sharks, species that have swum the seas for 250 million years could soon disappear.

The new EDGE of Existence report is the first to focus on sharks, ranking the 50 most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) sharks, rays, and chimeras in the world.  

Many sharks and rays are top of their food chain, meaning they are crucial to maintaining healthy ecosystems, and since they are found in almost every kind of aquatic environment, there’s much more at risk here than losing a species.

“Sharks, rays, and chimeras have been around since the age of the dinosaurs, but due to human activities, their modern relatives are facing threats all over the world,” EDGE Sharks co-ordinator, Fran Cabada, said in a statement.  

“The new EDGE Sharks and Rays list gives us the opportunity to highlight the most unique sharks and rays on our planet, which are also the most endangered, so that we can target conservation efforts where [they're] needed most.” 

Angel sharks (no. 5 in the ranking) are "flat sharks", ambush predators that hide in the sand and use their excellent camouflage (which can make them hard to study).  LuisMiguelEstevez/Shutterstock

Topping the list is the critically endangered largetooth sawfish (pictured at the top), usually found in tropical waters. It has drastically declined in recent years thanks to unsustainable fishing making it the victim of bycatch, making it not only number 1 here but winner of the dubious honor of being the highest-ranked EDGE species in the world.

The Caribbean electric ray (no. 12) may look innocuous but it can stun prey with an electric charge. Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock 

The new ranking includes 11 of the 13 living known orders of sharks, rays, and chimeras (fish that have no bones, only cartilage, like the ghost shark), many of which are living fossils, having first appeared around 250 million years ago.

Some of the list you will have heard of: the whale shark, the biggest fish in the sea and the only surviving member of the Rhincodontidae family; the basking shark, the second biggest fish and also sole surviving member of its family; and the great white shark.

The whale shark is not only the world's largest shark, it's the world's largest fish. Lindsey Lu/Shutterstock

Many you will never have heard of: the ornate sleeper ray, the only member of its genus, and only discovered in 2007; the natal shyshark, a little-known catshark found in South Africa; the bluegray carpetshark, an elusive nocturnal shark found off Eastern Australia and only ever recorded 50 times; the whitespotted izak, a tiny rare shark endemic to South Africa, Mozambique, and Madagascar; and the longnose marbled whipray, an extremely rare ray only known from five museum specimens, are just a few.

The bowmouth guitarfish (no. 21 on the list) is actually a ray. Rich Carey/Shutterstock 

To think that some of these species might disappear before we can find out more about them is depressing.  

“The EDGE Sharks and Rays list comprises some of the most interesting and unique fish we have on this planet,” Dr Matthew Gollock of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), who compile the EDGE rankings, said.

“The modern extinction of a single species from this list would cause the loss of millions of years of evolutionary history.”  

You can view the full list here.

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