The news does not look good for Jaws. A new study has found that the number of sharks has declined precipitously over the last decade. The findings, published in the current issue of the journal Science, suggest that the fierce predators may in fact be in danger of succumbing to human exploitation.
Julia K. Baum and her colleagues at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, analyzed more than 15 years of logbook data collected by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, which included one of the longest records of shark statistics available. The records covered longline fishing in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and included nine species of sharks. With the exception of one species, the mako, all of the sharks experienced declines of more than 50 percent over the past eight to 15 years. The hammerhead shark population was the hardest hit, declining 89 percent since 1986. The results imply that sharks should be given conservation attention equal to that currently provided to other threatened marine animals, the scientists conclude. Carefully designed marine reserves and a reduction in fishing, they write, "could hold promise for safeguarding sharks and other large pelagic predators from further declines and ecological extinction."