The Lost Shark

A recent update by the IUCN Red List has shown that more shark species than ever are in danger. Three hundred sixteen species of sharks, rays, skates and chimeras are now threatened with extinction.




The Lost Shark, Carcharhinus obsoletus,is already extinct, and others that are expected to follow soon include four species each of hammerhead and angel sharks, from the world’s most threatened shark families.


In spite of all the press that shark conservation has received in the past two decades, no effective protection of sharks has been established, no sharks have been saved, and their decline into extinction is ever more apparent. 


High profits versus declining animals 


The rising global demand for shark fins, contrasted with the steady depletion of the animals supplying that demand, creates a situation that endangers not only the continuation of shark populations, but also the health of the oceans. Sharks, as top and middle predators, are of extremely high ecological importance. 


The shark fin trade is driven by enormous profits that rival the trade in illegal drugs, and in consumer countries, there is no interest in sustainability and neither the will nor the resources to manage it. The result is that sharks are now the most valuable catches and are targeted by factory fishing fleets around the world. 


Fins-attached regulations have resulted in the shark fin industry loading shark meat onto local markets where it is sold under other names. Yet shark meat is not considered good food due to its unpleasant taste, and the high level of accumulated mercury and other toxins. But, with ninety percent of traditional fish stocks severely over-fished, sharks are being used to fill the gaps. 


The domination of industry


IUCN reported in 2014that one quarter of shark species were at that time facing extinction due to rampant over-fishing. Their global study found that the main factors contributing to extinction risk were the size of the animal, and the depth at which it lives. Shallow water species are more accessible to fisheries, and therefore at greater risk. 


However, in spite of the dire picture painted by this and all other scientific studies of shark status done, no effective protection for sharks has been put into place. Lack of data is always cited by fisheries organizations as the reason not to do anything, and the continuing effort to get more data delays action under current rules. However, it is clear from an examination of the records that it is simply not possible to get accurate data on the numbers of sharks that remain. The failure of fisheries management which was pinpointed in the 2014 study is increasingly apparent.


The current catch phrase of shark fisheries advocates is that sharks can be fished “sustainably.” However, while it sounds like a nice idea, the basic facts of subtraction amply illustrate that it is impossible in practice. The steady decline towards extinction of the species accessible to fisheries reveal that the shark fin trade is far from being sustainable.


This is why some researchers are calling for an immediate Appendix I CITES listing for all sharks, manta rays, devil rays and rhino rays. 


Europe's initiative


With the western powers joining in the frenzy to profit from the shark fin trade, a European Citizens initiative to stop the trade in Europe is ongoing and a million votes are needed. So if you are European, you can help by voting HERE.


The ocean must be allowed to recover


A global study by the World Bank, Sunken Billions(2009, 2017), found that over-fishing has resulted in a loss of about US$83 billion yearly. It is fishing effort which must be reduced to get the best economic result for solving the global fisheries crisis. Over-exploited fish stocks must be given time to recover, and steps must also be taken to permit the devastated oceanic ecosystems to restore themselves. The World Bank suggests using the subsidies that have encouraged over-fishing in the past to ease the social transition, as millions of fishers must switch to other occupations.


At the same time, one third of the ocean must be designated as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)


The solution is not to turn to fishing out the top predators because the shark fin trade has made them valuable, as fisheries around the world are doing. If no means are found to end the domination of industry in this respect, the unravelling of the oceanic ecosystems will continue, eventually to the detriment of humanity as well as sharks. No animals can withstand prolonged, unremitting, targeted, commercial hunting--not whales, not turtles, not fish, and certainly not sharks.


© Ila France Porcher, 2021, SEI's International Board member and Shark Behaviour Specialist Advisor.


Photo © Preserved specimen of new Carcharhinus obsolerus species and artist's impression below (PLOS ONE/Lindsay Marshall).


Basking Sharks

Did you know Basking Sharks can swim as fast and jump out of the water as high as White Sharks do, if they so choose?

Basking Sharks are a very distinctive shark species Cetorhinus maximusthat grow grow more than 10 meters large often seen filter-feeding at the surface. They still are a poorly known but highly migratory plankton-feeder. Their huge oil-filled liver provides them buoyancy. Formerly taken by target harpoon and nets primarily fot its liver oil and fins in much of its temperate water range, the Basking Sharks are nowadays widely protected through fisheries regulations and international agreements like CITES Appendix II, CMS Appendix II, Bern Convention, OSPAR and GFCM among others (Ebert and Fowler, 2014).

As it is commonly known the great White Sharks are known to jump out of the water – or breach – to capture agile seals and otters. By comparison, the peaceful Basking Sharks eat mostly zooplankton that drift into their 1 metre wide “megamouths”. They are also much larger than the great whites, so it’s a mystery why they would expand effort on breaching. But for some reason, they do (Yvaine Ye, New Scientist of 12 September 2018).

(Photo by Youen Jacob)

 See more in:
Journal reference: Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2018.0537

Arabian Carpetshark

The Arabian Carpetsharks, also known, in the Arabian Sea Region, as Arabian Bamboo Sharks, Chiloscyllium arabicum, are small and elegant sharks that can achieve up to one meter length, and their skin is of a rare golden colour.

From their biology, it is known they birth with aproximately 10 cm lenght, and that they mature between 45 and 55cm. Arabian Bamboo Sharks are oviparous that lay up to four egg-cases on coral reefs, with hatching after 70 to 80 days. They feed on squid (Loliginidae), shelled molluscs (Gastropoda), crustaceans, and snake eels (Ophichthidae).

Arabian Bamboo Sharks – occur from 3m to 100m deep. So when diving, we can found them in very shallow waters, from mangrove estuaries, to coral reefs, coral lagoons and rocky shores. Although, to some extend, it is taken as bycatch mostly in trawls and stake nets; it is usually discarded at sea.

According with the IUCN Red List, this shark species is assessed as NT (Near Threatened), because they are at risk of losing their coral reef habitats in some parts of the Gulf.

This is why it deserves the creation of specific new Marine Protected Areas in the Persian Gulf. Before it's too late, please!

Smoothhound shark

The smoothhound (Mustelus mustelus) is a houndshark species most commonly found in the North Eastern Atlantic, around the Canary Islands but which can also be seen swimming in demersal waters of the Mediterranean, and from the British Isles to the coasts of South Africa.

Indeed, the smoothhound is a small shark of the Triakidae family, one of the largest families of shark species with almost 50 species distributed among the temperate and tropical waters of all the coastal seas.

In adults, smoothhound females can measure lengths of more than 160cm and males around 110cm (Ebert and Fowler, 2014). It is estimated that their life expectancy can reach 24 years (Goosen and Smale, 1997) and their reproductive maturity is reached around 10 years of life.

Its reproduction is of the viviparous type with placenta of yolk sac (that is to say it is born like the mammals but without umbilical cord). In fact, after a gestation period of 9 to 11 months, females give birth to between 4 and 18 offspring, being thus the largest females have significantly larger litters, and their size at birth varies between 34 and 42cm (Saïdi et al, 2008).