Recently scientists conducting a study have determined that at least approximately 100 million sharks are illegally killed annually according to National Geographic. Close to 275,000 sharks a day! In fact the 100 million shark estimate could potentially be as high as 273 million sharks slaughtered yearly, researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada concluded. This news is troubling, as many species struggle to survive.
The report reveals that sharks are being overfished at alarming rates, with an estimated 6.4% to 7.9% being killed across all species. The research team estimated that 4.9% is the benchmark of how many sharks can be killed annually without impacting population stability. Sharks are particularly vulnerable due to their extended maturation period coupled with the fact that they reproduce infrequently during their lifetime.
One factor that the study highlights as a cause of the significant rise in illegal shark deaths is finning. Finning is when sharks are caught and their fins cut off on board a vessel while they are still living. The sharks are then tossed back into the sea often resulting in their death. This process has become more commonplace as shark fin soup has risen in popularity in Asia, especially China. Despite the fact that finning has been banned in many places including the United States and the E.U., the shark fin trade remains a multimillion or even billion dollar industry.
The report asserts that, “Global total shark mortality, therefore, needs to be reduced drastically in order to rebuild depleted populations and restore marine ecosystems with functional top predators”. As top predators in the ocean sharks impact the ecosystems creating a balance. Their decline could mean less biodiversity as certain species could proliferate without the threat of a predator. This cascade effect, where the lack of a predator cascades to every level of the oceanic food chain, has already been realized in places such as in the North Atlantic where the significant decline of 11 species of sharks has impacted the ecosystem. As a result their prey, rays, skates and smaller sharks, have increased ten times over and have begun to collapse the scallop, clam and oyster fisheries on the east coast according to Oceana.
What is clear is that the overfishing of sharks is damaging the ecosystems of the ocean. Soon the shark population will be so irreparably damaged that it will be beyond repair. Oceana has three key steps to protecting sharks:
Make sure that you do your part in spreading the word about the importance of protecting the sharks. Contact your local shark advocacy organization for more information on how you can help.