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Shark Info 4 / 00   (12-15-2000)



Diving with large sharks - a foolish pastime or scientific necessity?

Shark Info

  Main article:

Diving with large sharks - a foolish pastime or scientific necessity?

Dr. E. K. Ritter

  Article 1:

Of what real advantage is the list of endangered shark species?

Shark Info

  Article 2:

Initiative to prohibit shark feedings off the coast of Florida rejected

Richard Finkus

  Article 3:

American Senate passes law banning finning in U.S. waters

Shark Info

  Fact Sheet:

Basking Sharks

Dr. E. K. Ritter

Of what real advantage is the list of endangered shark species?

By Shark Info

The lists compiled by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) represent the start of obtaining an overview of endangered species. Almost 60 shark species are currently listed on the IUCN Red List which, unfortunately, is quite incomplete when it comes to sharks, mainly due to the lack of documented research.

The general problem

IUCN research on both listed shark species as well as other animal species is carried out in accordance with given criteria which allows them to be divided into different categories of endangerment ranging from "data deficient" to "extinct in the wild", with a host of other classifications between the two. Astonishingly enough, only those species are listed which were able to be researched with regard to their endangerment. The big problem, however, is that many species wind up on the lists after it is too late to save them or when the chance of saving them is at least questionable. Financial bottlenecks often prevent studying species which are potentially endangered, and those in charge often limit themselves to studying species which are easy to research or those found by chance (e.g. the Ganges shark) which are not consciously sought but are accidentally rediscovered in a fisherman's net or in a museum.
But what about the remaining 400 shark species? Are any of them threatened? Of course they are. Some are either so rare that one seldom encounters them, others cannot be studied due to financial reasons. This leads to the next logical question: Of what value is this list of endangered species when we do not know which other species are threatened or when the relationship between those listed and those not yet researched is left unexplained? Today it would be advisable as a precautionary measure to first put all sharks under some form of protection, perform the appropriate research and only then remove any nonthreatened species from the list, giving them a free to catch status. When a species' population density is so thin that no partners are available for mating purposes it is considered biologically extinct, a situation which precludes any protective measures from being taken to help save it.

The situation today

Sixty percent of all shark species on the IUCN lists fall under the category "data deficient" (insufficient data) or "low risk". The remaining species are designated as "endangered", "vulnerable" and "critically endangered". It does not take a psychic to realize that these statistics do not reflect reality. There are many more endangered shark species than only the 25 termed as threatened or shortly before extinction, but insufficient finances and personnel bottlenecks prevent us from really getting to the bottom of this situation.

The need for international cooperation

Assuming that some of these species - such as the Borneo shark (Carcharhinus borneensis), the Ganges shark (Glyphis gangeticus) or the speartooth shark (Glyphis glyphis), just to mention a few - are really endangered or even threatened by extinction, then everything possible must be undertaken to prevent them from being fished or killed in bycatch. However, in most cases such protection remains wishful thinking. Even at the last CITES Conference (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) held in April 2000 at which 150 nations participated, no protective status was given to the well-known white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), the whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) or the basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) to prevent them from being massacred or sold. Good will alone certainly does not suffice to change this situation since protective measures are only effective when they are legally anchored.

Progress despite setbacks

Despite the fact that IUCN lists are incomplete when it comes to sharks and that no international legislation exists to protect the endangered species, the lists are still considered a first step because they give this group of endangered animals a general status and provide politicians with arguments which could pave the way to their protection.
A promising move in the right direction is recognizable on a national level in the U.S., South Africa and Australia where white sharks have been very effectively protected. Not too long ago Australia also put sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) under protection. Hope remains that more and more people will soon better understand the situation with sharks and realize how many additional shark species require protection.

The list of shark species with their respective degree of endangerment is available from Shark Info.

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last change: 06-04-2016 10:48