Michael Tucker, International Conservation Intern
Whenever someone says the word “shark,” the great white from Jaws usually swims to mind. Unfortunately many shark species, the majority of which are harmless to humans, have paid the ultimate price for their more famous movie brethren. The porbeagle shark, an inhabitant of the colder waters of the Atlantic Ocean and a cousin of the great white, is one of those species in desperate need of assistance before it disappears from our planet’s oceans forever.
What is a Porbeagle?
Lamna nasus, also known as the porbeagle, is a relatively common shark found in the waters between Great Britain and Canada, ranging from shorelines to depths of up to 4,462 feet. The porbeagle is a stout-bodied shark with a pointed nose and a unique white spot on the rear of the dorsal fin. Like its larger cousin the great white, the porbeagle has a dual-shaded body to help it hunt fish from below and above. These sharks are also one of the only species of shark in the world that like to play — they have been found off of the Cornish coast rolling in kelp and pushing buoys around for no reason other than entertainment.
What’s the Problem?
Porbeagle sharks breed slowly and only give birth to one or two pups a year, so any significant damage done to the population takes a long time to fix. It has been estimated that it takes close to 14 years for a population to recover from excessive fishing. Porbeagles were a favorite target for fishing vessels from the 1950s to the 1990s for shark steaks until strict fishing laws were implemented during the late 1990s in order to save the species from overfishing. Although fishing for porbeagles still occurs in the northwestern Atlantic, studies have shown that the number of porbeagles landed in Europe has declined in the past 20 years.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the porbeagle is listed as globally vulnerable, critically endangered in the northwest Atlantic, endangered in the northeast, and near threatened in the southern Atlantic. In both 2007 and 2010, proposals to regulate the trade of the species were presented by the European Union at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but fishing interests successfully blocked the proposals each time.
You Can Help!
For the past couple CITES meetings, Defenders has been helping garner support for a new chance at getting additional international regulations for porbeagles and other shark species to better protect them against overharvesting. Brazil, Comoros, Croatia, the European Union and Egypt will all be sponsoring the porbeagle proposal, and we’ll be at the upcoming CITES conference meeting with the delegates and advocating for the proposal. We are hoping that this time the Parties to the Convention will recognize the dire need for international cooperation to protect porbeagle sharks. Last time, at the 2010 meeting, the porbeagle proposal lost by just a single vote! We are turning now to Panama, who could cast the decisive vote on this proposal and others like it designed to gain new protections for hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks. Click here to send a letter asking the President of Panama to support shark conservation at this year’s CITES conference!