More than a thousand different species of sharks and rays live in our oceans, but 25 percent of them are at risk of extinction, a new study finds.
These types of ancient fish are the most endangered animals in the world, according to a new assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
IUCN has been concerned about these and other species for more than 20 years, and have calculated the risk to their survival, which has been published in an online journal called eLife.
"It's quite bad, I'm sorry to say," says Sonja Fordham, who helps run the IUCN shark assessment.
Included in the Ray species are mantas and skates, and the sawfish that has a snout that resembles a double-sided saw.
Added Fordham, "the rays are actually worse off than the sharks."
Fordham, who is president of Shark Advocates International, says sawfish are the most endangered of all. Some populations have already been driven to extinction. They're critically endangered because they live along fragile coastlines, and because they're a prized catch for the Asian market.
The news that the shark species are in trouble shouldn't come as a surprise, "People know about the global trade in shark fins, but few know that some of the most valuable fins that are used in shark fin soup come from the sharklike rays, and species like sawfishes, wedgefishes and guitarfishes," Fordham says.
Rays also are often inadvertently caught in nets as bycatches. The common skake for instance, is now extinct in some European waters because they were wiped out by fishermen.
"Significant policy strides have been made over the last two decades, but effective conservation requires a dramatic acceleration in pace as well as an expansion of scope to include all shapes and sizes of these exceptional species," Fordham said. "Our analysis clearly demonstrates that the need for such action is urgent."
Boris Worm, a marine ecologist at Dalhouse University in Halifax, Nova Scotia is disturbed by the scale of the problem revealed in the study.
It's shocking to me," Worm says, that 25 percent of sharks and rays are endangered.
Information about these species has been hard to come by, he says, though he and others have been scouring global fishing records to get a sense of the problem's magnitude.
"We estimated that globally we are catching at least 100 million sharks a year," he says. "That's 11,000 each hour, every day, 365 days a year. So that's a lot of sharks."
The magnitude of this problem is overwhelming. The dilemma is that these fish cannot reproduce quickly enough to replenish their numbers.
The species are over 400 million years old, existing even before the dinosaurs. They're like a version 1.0 model of a fish, if you will," Worm says. "They grow very slowly and the populations are depleted very quickly."
There is some good news though, with conservation stories growing, as well as groups that fight extinction, Fordham says the challenge now is to spread this message far and wide, and include other species in that message that are headed toward oblivion.
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