Global Decline of Sharks Underscores Poor Health of World’s Oceans

In yet another example of the dire state of the world’s oceans, the World Conservation Union announced last week that it will be adding 10 species of sharks and rays to its global "Red List" of endangered species. Researchers cite overfishing throughout the world’s oceans as well as soaring demand for shark fin in Asia as the primary culprits in the global decline of shark populations.

Marine biologists are pessimistic about the ability of shark populations to rebound given that three-quarters of the world’s oceans are overfished while demand for shark fins—a delicacy in Asian soups—increases exponentially. "Overfishing and a lack of management are the biggest threats to sharks," says Rachel Cavanagh of the World Conservation Union’s Shark Specialist Group. "The trade in fins has rocketed over the past two decades with no controls."

Prior to the announcement, the Red List already classified 82 species of sharks and rays as nearing extinction. The new listings add more fodder to environmentalists" warnings about the fragility of ocean environments.

Despite the bad news, scientists point to hopeful signs that some conservation efforts are making a positive difference. Cavanagh cites examples of rebounding populations of black-tipped sharks and other species off North American coastlines, thanks in large part to stringent management techniques put in place over the last few years.