In case you haven't heard, it's Shark Week. This week-long shark extravaganza on the Discovery Channel is the highlight of many TV viewers' summer calendar. Because who doesn't love sharks? Aside from making great television, these fearsome predators are one of the most amazing and important fish species in the oceans.
As we celebrate our collective love of sharks, we should also take a moment to reflect on the many threats that sharks face. Sharks are in trouble -- and while we've made a lot of progress protecting them, we still need your help.
More states ban the shark fin trade
Each year, shark finners slaughter as many as 73 million sharks for their fins, typically hacking off every one of a shark's fins before tossing the shark back overboard, dead or dying. The demand for shark fin soup is already causing population declines as high as 99 percent for many species. Although the United States government banned shark finning in U.S. waters more than a decade ago, the possession and sale of fins is still allowed within the country. Just three weeks ago, Massachusetts became the ninth U.S. state to regulate the trade of shark fins -- joining California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Washington, and the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands.
Mixed protections for endangered hammerheads
Last month, the scalloped hammerhead shark became the first shark species ever protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) listed four of the six populations of scalloped hammerheads as endangered or threatened. Unfortunately, NMFS chose not to protect another declining shark species, the great hammerhead, though they published a review stating that researchers have suggested population declines ranging from 76 to more than 90 percent in recent decades.
White sharks recover in the Atlantic, but not everywhere
White sharks in the North Atlantic Ocean appear to be recovering, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency compiled white shark sightings over a 200-year period, the largest white shark dataset so far from this region. While this news is encouraging, Pacific white sharks aren't so lucky. Recent studies indicate that there are less than 350 adult and sub-adult great white sharks at their two primary aggregation sites in the Northeastern Pacific population, and more than two hundred great white shark pups are caught and killed in gillnets off of California and Mexico each year. Despite these threats to the population, both NOAA and the California Fish and Game Commission recently chose not to protect this species under the Endangered Species Act. The California Fish and Game Commission's Marine Resource Committee did agree to assess and take action to reduce bycatch across California fisheries, which could potentially help save white shark pups from gillnets in the future.
Dusky sharks need your help
Dusky sharks aren't as famous as great whites, but these bronze-hued sharks are declining. Researchers estimate that overfishing has caused populations off the Atlantic to decline by 99 percent during the last 40 years. NMFS prohibited fishermen from catching dusky sharks in 2000, but they didn't account for bycatch. As a result, northwest Atlantic dusky sharks are still being overfished and show no signs of recovering. In 2010, more than 3,400 dusky sharks were captured as bycatch in just two bottom longline fisheries in the southeast region. It is possible that 50,000 to 75,000 dusky sharks have been captured as bycatch in the U.S. since the prohibition in 2000, according to data gathered by Oceana. Oceana is embarking on a campaign to raise concern for dusky sharks and to demand concrete measures to ensure that the population will recover.
You can take action today to help Oceana stand up for dusky sharks. And as you tune in to Discovery this week, remind your family and friends that these awesome sharks need our help.