Out of the approximately 1,000 species of sharks and rays that live in the ocean, a full 25% of them are at serious risk of going extinct in the upcoming decades if current trends continue.
While conservationist groups have been concerned for sharks and rays for some time now, the exact extent of the damage to their populations was not realized until researchers at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature calculated the data to project the future. Unfortunately, the numbers only confirmed that the future looks bleak. Given the current state of things, experts consider sharks and rays to be some of the most endangered creatures on the planet right now.
According to Boris Worm, a Canadian marine ecologist who spoke to NPR, the main reason that rays and sharks are facing extinction is due to the fishing industry. About 7% of all ray and shark species are caught each year, and the creatures are unable to reproduce at a rate to adequately replenish their numbers. Compounded over time, the result is an alarmingly dwindling population.
Most of the time, sharks and rays aren’t even being fished intentionally. Instead, they accidentally get snagged in nets by fishermen and women who are attempting to catch other types of fish to sell at market. Because their habitat is so thoroughly fished, the sharks and rays that live in shallow, coastal waters are the most liable to be endangered.
That’s not to say some aren’t hunted intentionally. The shark fin trade, which has been fairly well publicized in recent years, certainly plays a pivotal role in endangering multiple species. What is less well known, however, is that rays suffer the same fate. Many rays – especially those whose fins look similar to sharks – are killed for their fins, as well.
Some humans also kill sharks because they perceive them to be threatening. When it comes to “shark attacks,” however, the real attacks are those perpetuated against sharks. Since the 1500s, there have been fewer than 500 confirmed human fatalities at the hands jaws of sharks. In comparison, humans kill more than 100 million sharks every year. Exactly who is attacking who here?
Although both types of sea animals are in rough shape, experts tend to agree that rays are the more threatened creatures of the pair. Because sharks have a more notorious reputation, rays tend to get less attention from conservationist groups, though hopefully this new report will inspire more action worldwide.
Sparing these animals from extinction will require a fight, but the good news is some efforts are already underway. Thanks in part to a Care2 petition, last year, manta rays and several species of sharks won additional protections from overfishing.
If either of these animals is especially dear to your heart, you may want to “friend” them on Facebook to track ongoing conservation efforts.