Threats to hammerhead sharks are on the rise

The San Francisco University of Quito is conducting a hammerhead shark research program in Galapagos; 200 specimens have tracking tags. Photo: Courtesy Manuel Yépez and Alex Hearn

February 9, 2021 00:00
Isabel Alarcón

The populations of the common hammerhead shark continue to decline, despite efforts to conserve them. In 1998, this animal was classified as ‘near threatened’. 23 years later, it is already ‘critically endangered’. Although it is one of the most studied animals, it has become one of the most threatened.

For Alex Hearn, a researcher at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, it is worrying that it has risen three categories in two decades. It went from ‘near threatened’ to ‘vulnerable’, ‘endangered’ and ‘critically endangered’. The latter is the category with the highest level of threat, before considering it extinct.

These data reveal a global reduction of 80% of its population in three generations. The researcher explains that the most worrying thing is that it is an emblematic species of the region and that it is the center of several conservation programs.

The population that lives in the Pacific Ocean is one of those affected. A recent study, led by scientist Demian Chapman and published in the journal Animal Conservation, revealed that 60% of hammerhead shark fins found in Hong Kong markets belonged to specimens caught off the coast of America, from Baja California to Peru.

This research also showed that, of the 80 species of shark found at these sites, the hammerhead was one of the four most common. Their fins are highly valued in the Asian market, as they are large. They are the main ingredient in well-known shark fin soups.

According to information from the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), this celebratory dish can sell for more than USD 100 per kilogram.

Hearn explains that the intensity of fishing has increased in the last 20 years in the world, and that the eastern Pacific area has become a hot spot, attracting fishermen from various areas. In addition, countries in the region such as Ecuador have become the main exporters of shark fins to Asia.

Although there are no local estimates of its population, a study carried out on Cocos Island, in Costa Rica, is taken as a reference. Sharks that come to this area are believed to belong to the same population as the Galapagos Islands. The results of this monitoring show that the population has decreased by 40% in the last 25 years.

For Hearn, these data are consistent with the current classification of the hammerhead shark on a global scale. Likewise, the reduction of their populations in Ecuador is evident in the coastal zone, where it is unlikely to observe these animals.

The country does not allow the intentional fishing of hammerhead sharks and in 2020 the commercialization and export of fins was prohibited. Despite this measure, in September of that year, eight tons of shark meat were seized from Ecuador in Peru.

This content has been originally published by Diario EL COMERCIO at the following address:

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021

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