It may have begun as summer filler programming, but the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” has endured the test of time as it enters its 24th year. In fact, the event has become such a phenomenon that it has drawn more than 20 million viewers each year since 1995. Unfortunately, these apex predators are increasingly scarce across the world’s oceans due in large part to finning and the appetite for shark fin soup.
Two years ago, the International Union for Conservation of Nature found that 30 percent of shark and ray species assessed are threatened or near-threatened with extinction. And the most recent numbers available show that up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for the fin trade.
As a result, the Pew Environment Group is working to pave the way for these species to rebound from years of intense overfishing. We’ve addressed the issue within the U.S. (through the newly-passed Shark Conservation Act) and internationally, by working with governments and through intergovernmental organizations to generate the rules needed to protect and conserve them.
Three years ago, there was no such thing as a shark sanctuary. Today, 926,645 square miles of the world’s oceans have been declared completely free of shark fishing. Palau, Honduras, the Maldives and the Bahamas have all announced sanctuaries in their national waters in just the past few years. On June 22, Chile’s Chamber of Deputies voted unanimously to ban finning — a triumph, considering the country’s 4,000 miles of coastline.
Add that to a recent victory for oceanic whitetip sharks on the high seas beyond any individual country’s jurisdiction. At this month’s meeting of the InterAmerican Tropical Tuna Commission, governments mandated that the fish be released if caught in tuna fishing gear, marking the first such measures to safeguard these animals in the Eastern Pacific. This level of protection, also adopted at last year’s International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas meeting, could both reduce the needless killing of this severely depleted species and enable its recovery.
And there may be even more good news in the months ahead.
At Pew, we’re working tirelessly to protect these apex predators, which, despite their fearsome reputation, are no match for the unchecked human appetite for shark fin soup. We hope to have more to share with you in the coming months. In the meantime, please check out our brand new interactive graphic here.
Photo courtesy of Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas.