10 Amazing but Endangered Shark Species: How Many Do You Know?

Grey reef sharks swimming in the ocean

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While the film "Jaws" transformed the great white shark into a cultural phenomenon, it is far from the only shark species. Over 500 species of sharks have been discovered by humans so far, and each one plays a key role in marine ecosystems, where sharks are often the top predators.

Unfortunately, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists approximately 30% of shark species as either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered, meaning that almost one-third of all sharks are threatened with extinction. Overfishing is the largest threat to sharks, with an estimated 100 million sharks killed each year by commercial and recreational fishers. Fortunately, many international organizations and national governments have developed regulations and management systems aimed at protecting endangered sharks from extinction, but much progress is still needed if humans want sharks to survive.

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Angelshark - Critically Endangered

A Gray Angelshark Lying in Wait of Prey on the Ocean Floor

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The angelshark (Squatina squatina) has lived in the coastal waters of Western Europe and Northern Africa for thousands of years, and populations used to be plentiful. Ancient Greek authors and physicians such as Aristotle, Mnesitheus, and Diphilus as well as the Ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder have mentioned the angelshark in their works, noting the appeal of its meat as a food source and the usefulness of its skin as a means of polishing ivory and wood. For the next 2,000 years, the angelshark remained a popular source of meat, fishmeal, and shark liver oil throughout Europe.

Unfortunately, the high demand for angelshark meat led to overfishing, which decimated angelshark populations. Angelsharks also have low reproduction rates and are often accidentally caught in fishing nets as by-catch, which further contributed to population declines. Over the past 45 years, global angelshark populations are estimated to have declined by 80-90%. Furthermore, the species is believed to be extinct in the northern Mediterranean Sea as well as in the North Sea, two areas that once hosted abundant angelshark populations.

Today, the IUCN lists the angelshark as critically endangered, but efforts are being made to conserve the species. In 2008, the UK government made it illegal to catch angelsharks in the waters surrounding England and Wales. Soon after, in 2010, the EU made it illegal to catch angelsharks in the coastal waters of any member countries, and in 2011, catching the angelshark in the Mediterranean Sea was also made illegal. However, despite these efforts, populations still remain critically low.

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Oceanic Whitetip Shark - Critically Endangered

Grey Oceanic Whitetip Shark with blue striped pilot fish around it swimming in the ocean

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The oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) is found throughout the world's oceans between the latitudes of 45 degrees north and 43 degrees south. A popular food source, the oceanic whitetip shark is used by humans for its meat and oil, and its fins are often used in shark fin soup. It is also valued for its skin, which is used for leather. The high demand for this shark's skin, meat, and fins has led to overfishing that has caused a sharp decline in population numbers. It is estimated that between 1992 and 2000, oceanic whitetip shark populations decreased globally by 70%. In some regions like the Gulf of Mexico, populations are believed to have declined by over 99% from the 1950s to the 1990s.

The IUCN has thus listed the oceanic whitetip shark as critically endangered, but efforts have been made to conserve the species. In 2013, the species was added to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and in 2018, it was added to Annex 1 of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Migratory Sharks. Both organizations aim to conserve endangered species. Furthermore, the oceanic whitetip shark is the only shark species to be protected by all four major tuna fishery management organizations.

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Great Hammerhead - Critically Endangered

Gray great hammerhead shark with jaws open swimming in the ocean

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The great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) is found in tropical coastal waters around the world between the latitudes of 40 degrees north and 37 degrees south. One of the preferred shark species for shark fin soup, the great hammerhead is primarily targeted by fisheries for its fins, while its meat is rarely eaten. Its skin is also used as leather and its liver is used for shark liver oil.

Great hammerheads are also occasionally caught recreationally by big game fishers and suffer extensively from being accidentally caught as by-catch. The overfishing of great hammerheads for their fins combined with the species' long generation time has caused worldwide populations to plummet by an estimated 51% to 80% over the past 75 years.

The IUCN lists the great hammerhead as critically endangered, but efforts have been made to conserve the species. The great hammerhead was added to Appendix II of CITES in 2013 and Appendix II of CMS in 2014. However, overfishing of this shark continues around the world and many laws aiming to conserve the species, such as the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean's (GFCM) ban on retaining great hammerheads, have not been enforced.

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Zebra Shark - Endangered

Grey spotted zebra shark resting on the ocean floor

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The zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) is found in the coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific region of the Earth's oceans, stretching from the coasts of East Africa to Australia. Since the zebra shark spends much of its time resting on the ocean floor near coral reefs, the destruction of coral reefs by human activity and pollution is a serious threat to population numbers. Furthermore, the zebra shark is often caught by fisheries. Its fins are used for shark fin soup, its meat is eaten either fresh or dried, and its liver oil is sold as a vitamin supplement. These factors have all contributed to a stark decline in global population size by an estimated 50% over the past 50 years.

The IUCN lists the species as Endangered globally, although zebra sharks in some regions are more susceptible to extinction than in others. In an effort to save the species, the Malaysian government has protected the zebra shark under the Malaysian Fisheries Act. In addition, many of the areas off the coast of Australia that are home to zebra sharks are protected marine areas, such as Moreton Bay Marine Park and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

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Shortfin Mako Shark - Endangered

gray shortfin mako shark swimming in the ocean

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The shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) is found in oceans around the world, but populations are declining in all regions except for the south Pacific. It is estimated that the global shortfin mako population has declined by 46% to 79% in the past 75 years. The sharpest declines were in the Mediterranean Sea, where populations have declined by up to 99.9% since the 1800s.

Shortfin makos are some of the fastest sharks in the world, making them common targets of big-game fishers who catch the sharks for sport. Of the shortfin makos that are caught for this reason and returned to the ocean, an estimated 10% will die. Furthermore, the meat of this species is considered to be among the highest quality of all sharks. Thus, shortfin makos are commonly targeted by commercial fisheries, which also value them for their fins.

Due to the shortfin mako's popularity among fishers and their declining population numbers, the IUCN has listed the species as Endangered. In 2008, the species was added to Appendix II of CMS, but unfortunately, few other efforts have been made to conserve the species. In 2012, catching shortfin makos was banned by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), but these laws have barely been enforced, and fisheries in many Mediterranean countries continue to catch the shark. Spain, for instance, is consistently the world's biggest shortfin mako fishing nation.

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Basking Shark - Endangered

dark gray basking shark swimming in the ocean

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The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is the second-largest extant shark species and is found in oceans worldwide, generally in waters with temperatures ranging from around 46.5 degrees to 58 degrees.

The basking shark has been a popular target of fishers for centuries and has long been valued by cultures around the world as a source of food, medicine, and clothing. Its skin is used to make leather, and its meat is eaten by humans. Furthermore, its exceptionally large and squalene-rich liver has made it a popular source of shark liver oil, and its cartilage is used in traditional Chinese medicine. Basking shark cartilage is also considered by some cultures to be an aphrodisiac.

The species is also highly valued for its large fins, which are used to make shark fin soup. A single fin can fetch a price of up to $57,000. The high demand for the various parts of the basking shark has led to overfishing, decimating populations. Global populations are believed to have decreased by 50% to 79% over the past century.

The IUCN, therefore, lists the basking shark as endangered, but efforts have been made to conserve the species. The basking shark was one of the first shark species to be listed under many wildlife treaties. Furthermore, the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) has banned basking shark fishing since 2005, and as of 2012, there are no known legally sanctioned commercial fisheries that target basking sharks.

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Speartooth Shark - Endangered

Gray speartooth shark swimming

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The speartooth shark (Glyphis glyphis) is one of the rarest shark species on earth, found only in tropical rivers in New Guinea and northern Australia. The speartooth shark is not targeted by fisheries for its meat or fins, but it may be accidentally caught in fishing nets as by-catch. Because of its low population numbers and its severely restricted habitat, the biggest threat to this species is habitat degradation. River pollution caused by toxic waste from mining operations is especially dangerous to the survival of the species.

The IUCN lists the speartooth shark as endangered, and efforts to conserve the species have been minimal. It is protected in Australia both under the 1999 Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and under the 2000 Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, but no management program has been implemented yet. Furthermore, no regulations have been established by the government of Papua New Guinea to protect the species.

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Dusky Shark - Endangered

gray dusky shark swimming in the ocean

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The dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus) is found in coastal waters worldwide. Another shark valued for its fins, meat, skin, and liver, the dusky shark is frequently targeted by fisheries, which often catch juvenile sharks. Fisheries in southwestern Australia, for example, mainly target dusky sharks that are less than three years old. As a result, 18% to 28% of all newborn dusky sharks in the region are caught by fishers in their first year of life.

Young dusky sharks are also targeted by recreational fishers around the world and are frequently caught accidentally as by-catch. Overfishing combined with the species' low reproductive rate has decimated global populations. Populations have declined globally over the past century by an estimated 75% to 80%.

The IUCN, therefore, lists the dusky shark as endangered, but there have been some efforts to conserve the species. Fishing for dusky sharks is currently illegal in the United States, although sport fishers are still known to catch the species. The Australian government has also implemented measures aimed at conserving the species, and the dusky shark was added to Appendix II of CMS in 2017.

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Whale Shark - Endangered

Gray spotted whale shark swimming in the ocean

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The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest fish species on earth. It is found in all tropical and warm temperate seas around the world except for the Mediterranean, mostly between the latitudes of 30 degrees north and 35 degrees south. Whale sharks are targeted by fisheries for their meat and fins and are occasionally caught as by-catch. Because whale sharks are so large and filter feed near the water's surface, they risk being struck and killed by large ships or injured by ships' propellers.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 had a strong impact on whale shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico, as whale sharks in this region were unable to avoid the oil due to their feeding habits. These threats combined with the late maturation of the species have caused a significant decline in global population numbers, with an estimated decline of over 30% in the Atlantic Ocean over the past 75 years and a simultaneous decline of 63% in the Indo-Pacific.

The IUCN thus lists the whale shark as endangered, but many efforts have been made to conserve the species. The species has been listed on Appendix II of CITES since 2002. Over forty countries have laws protecting the whale shark, and many key habitats for the species are protected areas, such as the Ningaloo Reef in Australia and the Yum Balam Flora and Fauna Protection Area in Mexico. Furthermore, many large commercial whale shark fisheries have been recently shut down. However, several illegal fisheries are still in operation and pose a serious threat to the survival of the species.

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Great White Shark - Vulnerable

Gray great white shark swimming in the ocean

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Perhaps the most iconic of all shark species, the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is found in oceans around the world. While populations have been increasing in the northeast Pacific and Indian Oceans, global populations have been declining overall by an estimated 30% to 49% over the past 150 years.

The fins and teeth of great white sharks are highly valued as decorations, but great white sharks are rarely caught on purpose by commercial fisheries, which tend to fish for other shark species whose meat is more desirable for food. However, great white sharks may still be accidentally caught in fishing nets as by-catch, and they are occasionally targeted in beach protection programs that aim to rid beaches of supposedly dangerous marine life.

The IUCN has thus designated the species as vulnerable. However, efforts are being made to conserve the species, especially given its notability in popular culture. In 2002, it was listed on Appendix I and II of CMS, while in 2004 it was listed on Appendix II of CITES. It is also protected under endangered species laws in Australia, New Zealand, California, and Massachusetts.