26 species

Of the approximately 500 species of sharks, 74 species are classified as globally threatened and 26 of these are classified as Critically Endangered or Endangered. Among these threatened sharks are the world’s largest fishes, the whale shark and basking shark.

Although sharks are widely believed to be dangerous to humans—and, as a result, incite fear and loathing—only a small number are associated with attacks, and the number of shark attacks pales in comparison with injuries caused by other natural phenomena, such as lightning strikes. The truth is: Sharks have more reason to fear humans than humans have to fear sharks.

Overfishing is the main threat to shark species around the world. Total reported capture production for sharks, skates, and rays—usually recorded and reported as a group rather than as individual species—is in the hundreds of thousands of metric tons, and the unreported catch, though unknown, may be several times larger. While expanding demand in Chinese markets for shark fin for shark fin soup and European and other markets for meat has been an important driver of fisheries for these species, liver oil, skin, and other products are also valued and traded for different markets. Among the most valuable "shark" fins are those from non-shark rays, such as sawfishes and guitarfishes.

The U.S. is a major shark and ray fishing and trading country, and WCS is working with partners to promote improvements in shark and ray fisheries management and controls on trade in these species. There is a particular need for improved species-specific reporting of both imports and exports of shark and ray products. A seafood traceability system being developed in the U.S. under a Presidential Task Force to Combat IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud will ideally prioritize sharks and rays as one of several groups for the first phase of implementation.

Also, through our New York Seascape Program, we are conducting research on sand tiger sharks, mako sharks, blue sharks, and others to document their movements and use of different habitats. The data collected are contributing to fisheries and habitat conservation efforts in the New York Bight.

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Global Priorities for Conserving Sharks and Rays

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