A scientifically accurate list of the most endangered sharks in the world

One of the most common questions I get during my “ask me anything” sessions on twitter is “which species of sharks are the most endangered?” Whenever I can’t completely answer a question in a single tweet, I like to link to more information from a reliable source.

However, I’ve struggled to easily answer this question with a link, because much of the information out there about this particular question is incomplete, misleading, or just wrong.  Several online lists of the most endangered species of sharks* don’t actually include the most endangered species of sharks. Many of these lists could be re-titled as “the conservation status of some species of sharks I’ve heard of and could easily find pictures of” or “some random information I heard out of context about shark conservation.” Since there isn’t an easily accessible source of accurate information about this important shark science and conservation topic, I’ll make one myself. ( I should note here that I am referring only to true sharks, not to other chondrichthyans, even though other chondrichthyans in many cases face similar or worse threats. )

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Long live sharks and rays!

Alastair Harry is a fisheries science practitioner based in Perth, Australia. He assists in implementing ecosystem based fisheries management to support the sustainable use of wild-capture fish resources. He is a generalist and works across multiple areas including stock assessment, bycatch, and threatened species. He also holds an adjunct position at James Cook University and has a specific interest in the conservation and sustainable management of sharks and rays. 

In August I published a review paper entitled Evidence for systemic age underestimation in shark and ray ageing studies. In it I suggest that many sharks and rays live considerably longer than is currently recognised. This increased life expectancy isn’t due to medical advancements or a more nutritious diet (or even better fisheries management), but rather the result of ageing error.

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Japan becomes the first nation to mine a deep-sea hydrothermal vent

Sixteen hundred meters deep, off the coast of Okinawa, a new kind of mining just cut it’s teeth.

Earlier today, the Japan Times reported that a mining tool has successfully extracted zinc and other metals from a hydrothermal vent on the seafloor. There’s not much to go on yet. We don’t know if these were active or dormant vents (though dormant doesn’t mean biologically dead). We don’t know the specific location of the experimental mine site. And we don’t know the footprint of the ore prospect. But we do know that Japan has identified at least 6 potential mining sites within its exclusive economic zone and that plans are moving forward for a commercial mining venture in mid-2020. I’ve only found one report in English and from the look of things, there’s only a press release circulating right now, but I’m certain we’ll be hearing much more about this in the coming weeks.

Japan Agency for Natural resources and Energy

We’re still watching to see what Nautilus Minerals does at Solwara 1 and how manganese nodule mining proposals in the Clarion Clipperton fracture zone are progressing but Japan’s mining efforts present a sea change in how to anticipate future deep-sea mining efforts. Private commercial ventures are dependent on the whims of the global commodities market and subject to national and international regulation. National efforts are driven by the need for resource independence. I was aware of Japan’s efforts, but didn’t realize that they were as close as they are to being ready for production.

For the last 10 years, we’ve been saying that deep-sea mining of hydrothermal vents is imminent. Well, it’s here.

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Gills Club Shark Tales: An online and in-person sharkstravaganza 19-20 September at NEAQ!

Note:  This post has been updated on 18 September 2017.  

Friends, Researchers, Countrywomen, lend me your ears!

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and New England Aquarium are hosting a completely free two-day event, 19-20 September, featuring an amazing line-up of shark scientists and enthusiasts, including:

Keynote Speakers:

Susan Goldberg – Editor in Chief of National Geographic Magazine

Wendy Benchley – Renowned global voice for shark protection and co-founder of the prestigious Peter Benchley Ocean Awards.

Gills Club Science Team Speakers:
Dr. Michelle Heupel – Australian Institute of Marine Science
Dr. Alison Kock – South African National Parks
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Protecting the ocean means lots of rigorous, mundane science.

Bathymodiolus manusensis. Photo courtesy Nautilus Minerals.

I have a new paper out today: Population structure of Bathymodiolus manusensis, a deep-sea hydrothermal vent-dependent mussel from Manus Basin, Papua New Guinea.

We sampled two sites in Papua New Guinea where these deep-sea mussels aggregate and looked at their genes to determine if there was any population structure across this relatively small spatial scale (~40 km). We found one homogeneous population. We also looked at representatives from other ocean basins and determined that mussel populations within Manus Basin are younger than those in neighboring basins. This is a pattern we’ve observed in several other studies as well.

This is not, by any stretch, a ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting study. But studies like this, baseline, foundation-building studies, are absolutely essential for conservation biology.

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Background information on our land-based shark fishing paper

A photo used in this study showing a hammerhead shark taken completely out of the water. As with all photos used in this study, the angler’s privacy has been protecting by blurring out his face.

I have a new paper out on the conservation impacts of recreational shark fishing. The paper is called “fishing practices and representations of shark conservation issues among users of a land-based shark angling online forum,” and it is published in the journal Fisheries Research. If you don’t have institutional library access, you can read a copy of the paper here. The goal of this blog post is to provide background information on the study.

Journalists are free to quote or paraphrase information from this blog post. Additionally, I provide some suggested quotes below, and I am available for interviews about this paper (please contact me at WhySharksMatter at gmail).

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Desert island discs – the marine conservation edition

In the UK, there is a famous and long-running radio show called Desert Island Discs. On this show celebrities are asked to imagine that they are marooned on a desert island, but they have rescued 10 discs (mp3s I suppose these days…) of songs that they have rescued from their sinking ship to keep them company on the desert island.

clipart credit: istock.com

My chum – marine mammal scientist and general ocean hero – Asha De Vos recently asked for a list of key papers in marine conservation that she could pass onto students working on marine conservation issues in Sri Lanka. So I decided to write up my top ten “desert island” marine conservation papers that I think have been influential, and that all marine conservation students should read.

So after much pondering, this is my list:

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Measuring the Cultural Value of Oysters

Most people from oyster-producing regions like the Chesapeake can attest to the fact that oysters are important the the social fabric of the community. In many towns that date back to the colonial era, oyster shells literally line Main Street and form the foundation of the town. In others, they form the basis of a modern-day bar scene boasting of “merroir” of the oysters alongside terroir of the wine. When the ecosystem around these kinds of places changes (think warming waters, acidified waters, introduced species who also love oysters), the resource underpinning this aspect of culture and heritage can be threatened. What does that mean for the humans so connected to the briny bivalve?

Historic Baltimore Shucking House. Courtesy of the NOAA Photo Library

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The Case Against Shark Fin Trade Bans

Photo credit: Jessica King, Marine Photobank

The United States Congress is considering a nationwide ban on buying, selling, or trading shark finsWhile several of my posts and tweets have briefly discussed my stance on such policies, I’ve never laid out my full argument in one post. Here is why I, as a shark conservation biologist, oppose banning the shark fin trade within the United States.  The short answer is that the US represents a tiny percentage of overall consumers of shark fin, but provide some of the most sustainably caught sharks on Earth, as well as important examples of successful management, to the world. This means that banning the US shark fin trade won’t reduce total shark mortality by very much, but will remove an important example of fins coming from a well-managed fishery while also hurting American fishermen who follow the rules. Also, a focus on these policies promotes the incorrect belief that shark fin soup is the only significant threat to sharks, and that addressing the tiny part of that problem locally represents the end of all threats. For the longer answer, read on. And for the case for shark fin bans, please see this guest post from Oceana scientist Mariah Pfleger.

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The Case for Shark Fin Trade Bans

Mariah Pfleger is a marine scientist at Oceana, an international marine conservation non-profit, advising both the responsible fishing and sharks campaigns. She graduated from Florida State University in 2012 where she studied coastal sharks and their relatives. In 2016 she earned her Master’s degree from the University of West Florida where she researched both coastal and deep-water sharks and rays. Mariah worked for 3 years as a field assistant, and during her Master’s an additional 3 years as a field manager, on the Gulf of Mexico Shark Pupping and Nursery Program. She has also conducted research using environmental DNA to detect rare and endangered sturgeon. Her twitter handle is @MariahPfleger.


The demand for shark fins is widely recognized as one of the major contributors to shark mortality around the world. However, solutions to decrease this demand are hotly debated, especially in the scientific community. Southern Fried Science and other websites have published opinions that debate the effectiveness of shark fin bans, but as a shark scientist working to implement this policy I would like to present the case for shark fin trade bans.

The conversation is newly relevant with the introduction of the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act in the Senate on March 30th by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Shelly Moore-Capito (R-WV) and in the House on March 9th by Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (I-MP). If passed, the bill would ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States – thereby removing the United States from the global shark fin trade altogether. The bill is championed by Oceana, where I work as the scientist on the sharks campaign.

The demand for fins fuels finning – the act of slicing off a shark’s fins and dumping the body back into the ocean. The United States recognized this practice was a problem and implemented the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 followed by the  Shark Conservation Act (SCA) in 2010, which required that all sharks must be landed with their fins naturally attached (except for smooth dogfish, which can be landed under a fin-to-carcass ratio). However, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the United States is still importing fins from places like Hong Kong, China, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and Indonesia, to name a few. Not all of these countries have anti-finning laws, which means that the United States may be, and likely is, purchasing fins from finned sharks. Once in the United States market, there is no way to tell whether a fin came from a finned shark or not. By purchasing these fins, the United States is sustaining the demand for this unsustainable practice. Read More