First systematic threat analysis reveals that 1/4 of sharks, rays, and chimaeras are threatened with extinction

It took a team of over 300 scientists nearly two decades, but the first systematic analysis of the conservation status of chondrichthyans (sharks, rays and chimaeras) has been completed. The results, published today (open access) in a paper titled “Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays,” are chilling.

“Our unprecedented analysis shows that sharks and their relatives – which make up one of the earth’s oldest and most ecologically diverse groups of animals  —  are facing an alarmingly elevated risk of extinction,” said Dr. Nick Dulvy, IUCN SSG Co-Chair and Professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

As of the writing of this paper, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group recognized 1,041 species of chondrichthyans. However,  a new species is described, on average, every two or three weeks! Out of these 1,041 species of chondrichthyans, approximately one in four are considered “Threatened” by IUCN Red List criteria;  113 species are Vulnerable, 43 are Endangered, and 25 species are Critically Endangered. 487 species are considered Data Deficient, but the IUCN Shark Specialist Group estimates that 68 of them are likely to be Threatened as well! Most alarmingly, only 23% of known chondrichthyan species are considered Least Concern, the lowest percentage out of any group of vertebrates on land or sea!

A hierarchy of IUCN Red List categories. Note that "Threatened" includes Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered

A hierarchy of IUCN Red List categories. Note that “Threatened” includes Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered

One of the two main factors influencing Threatened status is the size of the animal. Larger bodied species are sensitive to overfishing because they typically have a life history with slow growth, late age at maturity, and relatively few offspring. Additionally, living in coastal habitats (in other words, close to humans) makes a species more likely to be Threatened.

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State of the Field: Shark Conservation Policies

Shark populations around the world are crashing. Researchers have reported that many populations have decreased by 90% or more since the 1970’s. The leading causes for these precipitous declines are bycatch, which kills tens of millions of sharks each year, and the shark fin fishery, which kills as many as 73 million sharks each year. In this edition of State of the Field, I will explain what different countries are doing about this problem.

In many parts of the world, it is still legal to cut the fins off of a still-living shark and dump the rest of the animal overboard where it will bleed to death or drown. Other nations have a variety of management policies.

Credit: Fiona Ayerst, Marine Photobank

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