What's threatening sharks?

Sharks are among the most magnificent creatures in the world’s oceans. Equipped with a range of specially honed skills and senses, they are capable of carrying out a wide variety of duties in  their role as apex predators. Apex predators are essential to the health and overall balance of our oceans, ensuring the diversity of marine species, and the protection of marine habitats. 

Much remains unknown about sharks but we do know that they are facing an increasing number of manmade threats that are quickly pushing many species to the brink of extinction. 

These threats include:

  • Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, 
  • Shark finning
  • Overfishing
  • Capture as bycatch
  • Pollution
  • Habitat degradation
  • Climate change
  • Shark nets and drumlines

Sharks are being targeted in fishing operations for many different reasons. Shark fin soup is an obvious direct threat and a driving force behind their declining populations. 

Other contributing factors include a demand for the following: 

  • Shark meat (flake) – often found in fish and chip shops
  • Liver oil (squalene) - used in pseudo-vitamin supplement pills
  • Pet food – shark cartilage, meat and skin becomes food and treats for cats and dogs
  • Cosmetics – squalene can be found in moisturisers, sunscreen, lipstick and eye makeup
  • Fishmeal - fed to farmed animals

Many shark species take between 13 and 30 years to reach sexual maturity. These slow growth rates combined with destructive fishing practices make sharks particularly vulnerable to population depletion.

Some shark species have declined by 99% in the past 30 years alone. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List, at least a quarter of shark and ray species are now classified as threatened. However, only 50% of known species have been assessed, meaning that a much greater number of sharks could be endangered without having been classified as such. 

It is impossible to tell the true impact we’re having on global shark populations but, after surviving five mass extinction events and frequenting the earth for over 450 million years, it is clear that the oldest and, arguably, the most important predator on the planet,is at risk of extinction – all due to human interference. 

Photo: Michael Muller

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