The world’s shark populations are in grave trouble. With over 100 million sharks killed each year as either bycatch by fisherman or a cruel practice known as finning, shark populations are verging on collapse with at least an estimated thirty percent of open ocean sharks threatened with extinction. As apex predators near or at the top of the oceans food chains sharks are critical to the stability of our ocean’s ecosystems. Slow to reach sexual maturity and giving birth to very few offspring, shark populations are slow to recover and very susceptible to overfishing and as their worldwide numbers plummet sharks, and our oceans, face a very uncertain future. To ensure the species survival and stability countries worldwide must recognize this threat and work towards adopting methods that will ensure their recovery. In order to help further our work on protecting shark species Defenders of Wildlife is happy to welcome the great white shark as our newest adoptable animal in our wildlife adoption center and hope it will make quite a splash.
Alejandra Goyenechea, our international counsel, is one of the staff here who works internationally to advocate for shark protections. I was lucky enough to have a chance to talk with her and find out some of the work Defenders is involved in as we work to protect sharks worldwide.
Q: What is Defenders doing over the next two years to help protect sharks worldwide and how/who are we working with to help protect them?
A: Over the next 2 years Defenders will advocate for sharks in Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for better and stronger conservation measures at the international level. We are going to work in collaboration with countries to adopt conservation measures at the international level at the various fora in which sharks are included in agendas such as International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna and InterAmerican Tropical Tuna Commission both of which we will be working to establish better strategies and stronger enforcement and regulations to stop bycatch as well as the Convention on Migratory Speicies and CITIES for stronger trade laws for the most endangered shark species.
Q: Which sharks most desperately need our help and why?
A: Based on population data currently the sharks that most critically need our help are the hammerhead sharks, ocean whitetip, sandbar, and dusky.
Q: What is the biggest threat to sharks today and how are we working to stop it?
A: The biggest threat to sharks is bycatch, finning and lack of information to consumers. We will work at the international level to collaborate with countries worldwide to adopt measures that will decrease the impact of international trade to these threatened and critically endangered species.
Q: Why is it so hard to protect sharks internationally?
A: The biggest threats sharks face is from the governments of countries that display a lack of good will and refuse to stop the importation or exportation of shark fins and meat despite the growing science pointing to population crashes through the world’s oceans. Because of this the majority of the government decisions are political and in their own self interest and not science based.