Sharks Are Going Extinct

Hammerhead in gillnet, finned Hammerhead

Hammerhead in gillnet, finned Hammerhead

Humans are swiftly wiping out sharks. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that as many as 100 million sharks are killed each year, and that global populations have dropped by up to 90% in the past few decades. Certain species are on the verge of extinction or already extinct in some regions.

Each year, millions of sharks are slaughtered solely for their fins, which are chopped off before the writhing body is tossed back into the ocean to slowly perish from either blood loss, starvation or suffocation. These fins are used as the main ingredient in shark fin soup, an expensive delicacy that’s popular in Asian countries as a status symbol. Another market for sharks—one that cruelly exploits the desperation of humans—is the shark cartilage pill industry. Research on animal cartilage as a possible treatment for cancer has been twisted out of context to support claims of shark cartilage pills being a cure for cancer. The pills have been proven to be absolutely useless by scientists and clinical trials.

Sharks are targeted by other commercial fisheries and are also caught accidentally as bycatch in fishing nets and on long lines baited for other fish. Even competitive and recreational fishing has taken a toll on shark numbers. Sharks are hooked and killed in organized tournaments, as well as by individuals looking for a quick thrill and an impressive trophy to lug home.

Fishing isn’t the only threat to sharks. In some countries, mesh nets are stretched out parallel to tourist beaches at spaced out intervals. They are meant to reduce the chance of an encounter between a shark and a swimmer through eradication of local shark populations—the sharks get entangled in the netting around their gill region and suffocate. Many of the sharks that die in these nets are species that have never been known to bite humans.

Human encroachment on and pollution of the environment endangers sharks too. Bays, mangroves and other coastal areas used by sharks as birthing, mating or nursery grounds are destroyed to make way for golf-courses, casinos and hotels. Sharks become ensnarled in discarded fishing lines and plastic materials. Chemicals leaked into the ocean from coastal runoff and wastewater can wreak havoc on their physical development and reproduction.

Sharks cannot recover from this relentless massacre because they grow so slowly and produce so few offspring: Most species don’t reach sexually maturity until 12-20 years, some as late as 30 years. Shark litters are very small, ranging from a single pup per litter to usually less than 20. Their gestation periods are exceptionally long, most lasting about a year, even up to 3.5 years for certain species.

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