There are 468 known species of sharks living in our oceans. These fascinating fish have inhabited Earth’s oceans for 400 million years but today they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Because they are very slow to reach sexual maturity—anywhere from 12-15 years—and typically only give birth to one or two pups at a time, sharks have great difficulty recovering their populations after extreme depletions.
Why They Are Important
Sharks are an apex predator at or near the top of their marine food chains. They regulate the populations and the variety of the species below them. Research has shown that massive depletion of sharks has cascading effects throughout the ocean’s ecosystems.
While it is impossible to know how many sharks are killed yearly due to illegal and unrecorded catch, it is estimated that up to 73 million sharks are killed each year by “finning” alone—a brutal practice that involves cutting off a shark’s fins, usually while it is still alive, and throwing the body back overboard where it either bleeds to death or drowns. The fins are then used to make shark fin soup, a traditional Asian delicacy.
If the number of sharks killed as bycatch, or unintended catch, is included, the number of sharks killed each year tops 100 million. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has estimated that 32 percent of open ocean sharks are threatened with extinction.
What Defenders is Doing to Help Sharks
For years, Defenders of Wildlife has been at the forefront of efforts to stop shark finning, including helping to pass anti-finning legislation in Mexico and the sale, possession and trade of shark fins in California, New York and Maryland.
Defenders is also working internationally with countries like Costa Rica to have threatened shark species listed in the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as well as domestically with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help ensure their survival.