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August 12, 2014

Lost sharks


Not much has changed since the release of the famous “Jaws” by Steven Spielberg. Sharks have always scared us due to their ferocious appearance and the scope of recorded world attacks on humans; a bad reputation that has been spread by the media. But should we be afraid of them, or afraid for them? Using the slogan “scared for sharks”, actress January Jones collaborated with Oceana in 2009, as a spokesperson to raise awareness of shark conservation.

Harmful human activities such as shark finning or uncontrolled shark fishing threaten populations with extinction. Because sharks grow slowly, mature late and produce only a few young, they are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. However, very often we do not realize the importance of their presence in the ecosystem for the maintenance of maritime life and the health of coral reefs. The depletion of sharks in our oceans can result in the collapse of fisheries and the loss of corals and other marine habitats.

A recent study conducted by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species revealed that a quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are threatened with extinction. Another worrying fact is a question of “lost sharks”; species that you have probably never heard of. For example, no new specimens of the Honeycomb Catshark (Holohalaelurus favus), which is from the southern Indian Ocean, have been reported since the mid-1970s. This species reaches a maximum length of 50cm, and contrary to the popular opinion on white sharks, causes little or no big threat to humans.

Another example of a “lost species” is the Atlantic Angel Shark (Squatina dumeril) residing along the Atlantic Coast of North America and in parts of the Caribbean. Currently is it listed by IUCN as “Data Deficient”, which means there is not enough available information to assess its status.

Those and other disappearing elasmobranches (extant species of sharks and related rays, skates, guitarfishes and sawfishes) deserve our special attention. “”They might be perfectly fine, but nobody’s searching for these things at all. We need to be looking for them and protect them,” urges David Ebert, program manager for the Pacific Shark Research Center at the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California.