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Sharks are essential to a healthy ecosystem, and their disappearance would have far-reaching consequences. In this article, we look at the threats they face. Because the better we understand our environment, the more effectively we can protect it.

Sharks

Cartilaginous fish (Chondrichthyes) - i.e. sharks, rays and sea cats - are an evolutionary recipe for success. Over the last 400 million years, they have conquered almost every ecological niche in our oceans - from the darkest deep sea to the sun-drenched coastal areas [1]. Despite this evolutionary triumph, they are now increasingly threatened with extinction. This is mainly due to their common features, which are not limited to their cartilaginous skeleton. Rather, they all have slow growth, late sexual maturity and low reproductive rates in common [2]. Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus) are a striking example with a life expectancy of more than 500 years. They only give birth to their first offspring after about 150 years [3]. Many of the large known shark species also produce only a few young per litter - and only every few years [4].

For millions of years, none of this was a problem. As apex hunters, sharks were never meant to occur in large numbers and population densities. But now their low reproductive potential is causing serious difficulties in the face of a new threat - humans. We are massively overexploiting our oceans with the consequence that more and more species on the IUCN Red List are moving closer to extinction. Some of our behaviours are well known to us from the media, other issues still elude the public eye.

Unregulated fishing

The targeted hunting of sharks can be divided into three categories, either for (i) shark meat, (ii) shark products or (iii) recreational fishing. SHARKPROJECT regularly provides information on the ecological consequences of the concept of "shark as a resource" in current and past campaigns. However, the issue of recreational fishing is largely rather unknown. This is not about sharks as a product, but as a prestige object.
Especially along the west coast of the USA and in the holiday regions of the Caribbean, the hobby is becoming more and more popular. In the 1970s, the starting signal was given by the sad cult classic "Jaws" [5]. Today, social media and the ongoing search for the perfect selfie drive the industry. The tournaments do not even stop at endangered species. Hammerheads (Scalloped Hammerhead Sphyrna lewini; Great Hammerhead Sphyrna mokarran), mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus), or thresher sharks (Bigeye thresher shark Alopias superciliosus; Common thresher shark Alopias vulpinus) are regularly on the catch lists. For all of these species, population numbers are in decline [6]. Every animal that dies senselessly as a trophy is another step towards extinction.

Unfortunately, the bigger the animal and the rarer the species, the better. For the participants in the competitions, it is about prestige, publicity and often large prize money. For the sharks, it's about the survival of their species. For it is the large animals that contribute most to the preservation of the species [7]. If these fertile and sexually mature animals are removed, the inevitable collapse of the local population often follows.

Join us & help SHARKPROJECT to prevent one of the main reasons for the declining population numbers of sharks. Ohne Dich Geht's Nicht - Your vote for an EU-wide ban on the trade in loose shark fins https://eci.ec.europa.eu/012/public/#/screen/home

Sources can be found here.


Great white shark Photo C. Gstöttner | Sharkproject Germany

Great white shark Photo C. Gstöttner


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