Sharks and rays are becoming extinct at an “alarming” rate, experts warn, and it is up to us to save them. A new study, originally meant as a useful report card for the numbers of sharks and rays in our oceans, has instead revealed a dramatic drop in the species’ numbers. Data suggests that the number of sharks living in the open ocean has fallen by 71% in 50 years, largely due to overfishing. Shark meat, fins and liver oil still remain lucrative commodities and unsustainable fishing, whether it is targeted or accidental, is to blame for the populations plunging.
Crucially, some species such as the oceanic whitetip and great hammerhead sharks have declined so sharply, they are now classified as ‘critically endangered’ – the highest threat classification according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Dr Sherley, study researcher, believes that the answer to saving these species depends on the political will and activism of the common people to pressure governments and fishing corporations to implement sustainable fishing limits.
“The science is there, there needs to be the desire to do those stock assessments, to implement the measures that are needed to reduce the take of sharks and that political will has to come from pressure from citizens.”
The study highlights vividly that conservation action for sharks and rays is urgent and previous projects to save species, such as the great white shark, have shown success when science-based fishing limits are enforced. Proving that there is hope for preserving and multiplying those that are endangered.
Experts propose that this new data is a significant wakeup call and despite their misguided dangerous man-eating reputation – thanks Jaws – sharks have an important role to play in our oceans. Sitting at the top of the food chain, their loss would have a monumental impact on the health of the ecosystem and create negative effects on fish populations. Furthermore, their extinction would close a window to our evolutionary past as these living fossils represent millions of years of natural history – with so much still to learn from them. Rays also carry a dubious reputation after the high-profile death of Steve Irwin who was killed by a stingray barb. However, their loss would have repercussions across the marine ecosystem as their predatory instincts keep the balance of the oceans and ensure species diversity.
The message has always been clear that we cannot fail to lose such vital marine wildlife, but this new study soberly reveals that we have less time than we thought. In the hidden world of our oceans, a crisis is taking place and to secure a brighter, better future for these irreplaceable animals we all must take responsibility to sign petitions, campaign for science based fishing limits and support more sustainable goals for our vulnerable ocean wildlife.