Image courtesy of The Lilac Breasted Roller via flickr
Long vilified as ruthless "man eaters," sharks have, in truth, never held a candle to nature's real apex predators: us. Indeed, surging global demand for their precious fins and frequent bycatch incidents have already frittered away large numbers of the vulnerable animals; Reuters' Timothy Gardner reports that a new report issued by the World Conservation Union, or IUCN, estimates that several species have witnessed declined of over 95% in their populations since the 1970s.
The hardest hit species include the tiger, bull and scalloped hammerhead sharks; the latter, in particular, has seen its numbers plunge in recent years as fishermen have indiscriminately targeted both adults and juveniles, which often swim in shallow waters- it also doesn't help that its fin is particularly prized for use in soup. It will be listed on the IUCN's 2008 Red List as one of several globally endangered species.In addition to being hunted down for their meat and fins, millions of sharks are often taken as bycatch each year in tuna and swordfish fisheries. The great hammerhead, which was added onto the 2007 Red List, has seen its numbers plummet by almost 80% over the last quarter-century.
While shark fishing in international waters (inexplicably) remains unrestricted, there may yet be some hope for the beleaguered animals: a newly proposed U.N. resolution would call for immediate catch limits and for a complete ban on shark finning. A bit late in the offing, we'd say, but, if successfully enacted, it would still be a huge improvement over the status quo.