Today is a sobering day for sharks. Colombian authorities have reported that as many as 2,000 hammerhead, Galápagos and silky sharks may have been slaughtered for their fins in the nation's Pacific waters.
According to the Colombian president's top environmental adviser, divers saw 10 Costa Rican trawlers illegally entering the Malpelo wildlife sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage site. When the divers swam down deeper, they found a shocking amount of sharks lying on the ocean floor, finless.
Considering that sharks give birth to only a few young each year, the loss of 2,000 sharks is a significant single blow to the ecosystem. But 2,000 is a small number compared to the millions of sharks that are killed each year around the world for their fins. Sharks play a vital role in maintaining the health of ocean food webs; when the sharks are removed, the entire system can be thrown into disarray. Many scientists say that you can tell a marine ecosystem is thriving if it teems with sharks.
The Colombian shark massacre is especially shocking as it comes just a few short weeks after we cheered the sweeping U.S. West Coast ban on the trade of shark fins. It's a reminder that while Oceana and our allies have made a lot of progress for sharks over the past few years, they are still being killed for their fins in appalling numbers.
It's also a reminder that the global shark conservation movement is at a critical juncture. An increasing number of nations are recognizing the need to protect the ocean's top predators. Take Chile, which passed a national ban on shark finning this summer. And more recently, Mexico and the Marshall Islands have announced plans for new shark protections. More governments are realizing the value of sharks to the health of their oceans and economies.
It's encouraging to see the tide rising on global shark conservation, but it's also important to note the role of illegal fishing in this tragic incident. Marine sanctuaries are wonderful places, but enforcement is key to keep out the illegal fishermen who aim to capitalize on the wealth of fish and sharks that make these areas so special.
At Oceana we're working on this problem from both angles - we're winning increased protections for sharks, and we're working to curb illegal fishing. You can help by supporting our efforts to protect the ocean's top predators from extinction.