Sharks Are Becoming Functionally Extinct Around The World

Jul 28, 2020,12:40am EDT

Melissa Cristina MárquezContributorScienceI write about the latest, exciting research on sharks worldwide!

Since the dinosaurs have roamed our planet, there have been sharks. These predators, swimming beneath our ocean’s waves, have survived numerous mass extinctions over the course of our planet’s history, and seem to have evolved to survive anything… except their most formidable opponent yet: us. For most people, an ocean full of sharks is their worst nightmare. But for those who study these animals, the reality of dwindling shark numbers is theirs.

Reef shark near a BRUV
Since the dinosaurs have roamed our planet, there have been sharks. These predators, swimming … [+] PERMISSION GRANTED BY GLOBAL FINPRINT

Sharks face a staggering number of threats such as overfishing and bycatch, habitat destruction and degradation, climate change, plastic pollution, and illegal shark finning. In one of the largest collaborative projects yet, the impact these threats have had on our global shark populations has been made glaringly obvious: nearly 20% of the world’s sharks have vanished from reefs thought to be teaming with life.

Coral reefs were once renowned for being abundant with sharks, but these animals have been targeted by both legal and illegal fishers so that today many reefs see few, if any, individuals. By taking sharks out of these highly complex ecosystems, it has triggered a phenomenon called “mesopredator release,” where other large predatory fish will increase in abundance and feed on herbivores. If you’re a fisher, having more of these large fish (that you generally fish for) sounds like an awesome trade! But herbivorous fish are a vital component of this habitat, eating algae that would otherwise overwhelm and potentially kill young corals.ADVERTISINGRecommended For You

The study, published in the journal Nature, includes over 100 scientists working together to go through 15,000 hours of underwater video from 371 reefs in 58 countries, states and territories to show that sharksare absent on many of our coral reefs. In fact, this new research from Global FinPrint shows they are functionally extinct — which means they are so rare in certain areas they can no longer fulfill their role in the ecosystem. Since 2015, the Global FinPrint team — which is led by researchers at Florida International University (FIU) — has used underwater cameras to pinpoint specific strongholds for sharks and rays. 

Shark on a reef

Shark finning: why the ocean’s most barbaric practice continues to boom

The Truth about SharksSharks

The recent seizure of the biggest shipment of illegal fins in Hong Kong history shows the taste for shark is still going strong

Seascape: the state of our oceans is supported byAbout this content

Matthew Keegan

Mon 6 Jul 2020 01.30 EDTLast modified on Mon 6 Jul 2020 07.19 EDT


Shark fin traders in Hong Kong
 Shark fin traders in Hong Kong. At least 50% of the world’s shark fin is traded through the city-state. Photograph: Paul Hilton/EPA

In the narrow streets of Sai Ying Pun neighbourhood, the centre of Hong Kong’s dried seafood trade, most window displays give pride of place to a particular item: shark fins. Perched on shelves, stuffed in jars and stacked in bags, shark fins are offered in all shapes and sizes. Several shops even include “shark fin” in their name.

Fins are lucrative, fetching as much as HK$6,800 (£715) per catty (604.8g, or about 21oz), and the trade is big business. Hong Kong is the largest shark fin


Canada becomes the first G20 country to ban shark fin trade

A shark seen in a close up imageImage copyrightOCEANA/TERRY GOSS
Image captionCanada imported some 170,000 kg of shark fins in 2017

Canada has become the first G20 nation to ban the import and export of shark fins, in an effort help preserve a predator under threat.

The country is the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia, though shark finning in the domestic fishery has been illegal since 1994.

The shark fin trade is believed to have contributed to the precarious status of many shark species worldwide.

An estimated one-third of fins sold come from species that are at risk.

Critics say the way many of the fins are collected is inhumane and unsustainable and has had a devastating impact on global shark populations.

Shark finning involves cutting off the valuable fin while the shark is alive, and discarding the rest of the body.

Canada’s bill bans the import and export, to and from Canada, of shark fins that are not attached to the shark.

It was passed by parliament this week after years of effort by legislators and campaigners, and received Royal Assent on Friday.

Fins are some of the most expensive seafood items in the world, as the meat is considered a delicacy.

In 2018, Canada imported over 148,000 kg (326,000 lbs) of shark fins.

“We’re not the biggest player but we’re a player,” executive director Josh Laugren, with Oceana Canada, which lobbied for the legislation, told the BBC.

“[The bill] is both meaningful in its own right in terms of the trade of shark fins but also hopefully leads the way for other countries to follow suit.”

The UN estimates that 73 million sharks are killed for their fins every year.

Like in Canada, conservation concerns have led to a push to limit the trade of shark fins in other countries.

In the US, there are trade bans in place in states like Washington, Oregon, California, and Texas. Congress is also considering legislation on the matter.

There is also evidence that public awareness campaigns can have an impact on shark fin consumption.

In China shark fin soup has been eaten for centuries, but it has lost its popularity in recent years following conservation efforts, including by former NBA star Yao Ming, who worked for years to stem demand in his home country.

As of 2013, no shark fin dishes are served at official Chinese government functions.

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A political gimmick?

Zhaoyin Feng, US Correspondent, BBC News Chinese

“The shark fin ban is just a gimmick to gain political capital,” says Ben Leung, who is active in the Chinese immigrant community in Canada.

He criticises the ban, arguing it targets Asian culinary culture, while providing little actual help to protecting sharks.

Mr Leung expects the ban’s impact on Asian restaurants in Canada to be “limited”, as it had been long expected.

In some Asian cuisines, shark fin is considered a luxurious ingredient and a status symbol, often served at wedding banquets, but uncommon in daily diet.

It has been gradually disappearing from the modern wedding menu as well. Fewer young Chinese couples now include shark fin soup in their wedding banquets, Mr Leung says.

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While there are ways to sustainably fish sharks, Mr Laugren compares fin trade bans to efforts to stem the ivory trade.

The international trade in ivory was banned in 1990, with bans in countries like China put in place more recently.

Media captionShark fins are a status symbol in China

“It was so out of control that a ban really was the only effective way to halt the huge decline in ivory-bearing animals,” said Mr Laugren.

Sharks still face other environmental pressures, and he says further steps – like a crackdown on illegal fishing and the management the high shark bycatch, a term for when non-target species are unintentionally caught in fishery – are necessary.

Travesty of Justice

Over the weekend, Sea Shepherd’s Captain Paul Watson was arrested in Germany on a warrant issued by Costa Rica for a bogus ten-year-old “violation of ships traffic” that allegedly occurred when Sea Shepherd encountered a shark finning operation run by a Costa Rican ship. Arresting someone like Paul Watson, who has dedicated his entire life to defending the life of our oceans against illegal and destructive acts, calls into question the very notion of justice in today’s world.

In his foreword to my book, Exposing the Big Game, Captain Watson writes:

“There is only one vicious creature stalking the wilderness and that is the hominid primate that has become a divine legend in its own mind. The enemy is us and the real challenge is to subdue the destructive urges within each of us and to channel those urges in the direction of affirming life and not taking it. The primitive man is a killer ape, the evolved man or woman is a shepherd protecting life.

“The cruelty and destruction that humans have inflicted upon each other is surpassed only by the cruelty and destruction humans have inflicted upon the non-human citizens of this world. …

“It’s time to make peace with our fellow citizens, to live in harmony with them and to understand that those who today club seals, harpoon whales, shoot bears, trap beaver, hook a shark, or blast a goose with a shotgun will be viewed in the future in the same light as we now view slavers, warlords, gangsters and politicians.”

Obviously not the words of a dangerous criminal, though perhaps the words of someone who could be considered a danger to a corrupt and vicious system. We need people like Paul Watson to shine the light on the real criminals of the world and expose their crimes against the thousands of voiceless victims of an over-consumptive society.

For updates and information on how you can help:

And to sign the petition to free Captain Watson: