Latest IUCN Update Adds 39 More Species to Endangered Red List 

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Caribbean reef sharks are common and a diver's favourite - and are now listed as Endangered (Photo: Konstantin Novikov/Shutterstock)

New updates released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlight more grave news for sharks and rays, with an additional 39 species being classified at risk of extinction. A total of 355 species of sharks and rays are now classified as Critically Endangered (76 species), Endangered (112) and Vulnerable to Extinction (167). 

The number of species now classed at risk of extinction represents 36 per cent of all sharks and rays, an increase from the 25 per cent classified as such in 2014, and more than triple the number of species listed as Critically Endangered in 2014, from 25 to 76.

'The alarm-bells for sharks and rays could not be ringing louder,' said Dr Andy Cornish, Leader of Sharks: Restoring the Balance, WWF’s global shark and ray conservation programme. 'The sheer number and diversity of these animals facing extinction is staggering. Overfishing is by far the greatest threat and has to be reined in. The good news is that solutions to this crisis do exist. Governments and the regional fisheries management organisations, which manage fishing in the high seas, must act now and boldly to recover the most threatened species before it is too late.'

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The ornate eagle ray (Aetomylaeus vespertilio) is rarely seen and classed as Endangered (Photo: By SunnyMart/ CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia)

Most alarmingly, the IUCN reports that one species of ray may have already gone extinct, as the Java stingaree (Urolophus javanicus) is now assessed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct). A unique ray from the coast of Java in Indonesia, it was previously listed as Critically Endangered, and has not been seen since the end of the 19th century when it was originally discovered.

Eight out of nine species that have been uplisted to the Critically Endangered category – meaning they are just one step away from extinction – are rays (mostly guitarfishes and eagle rays). While rays are less familiar to the general public than sharks and therefore receive far less attention in the popular media, their populations are suffering even greater losses than those of sharks as a consequence of overfishing and lack of fisheries management.

While it is sometimes the case that the species of sharks and rays judged to be at risk of extinction are unfamiliar to divers, the new Red List updates rather worryingly include species that were previously very common, very abundant, and very familiar to divers - including the Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi) reclassified from Near Threatened to Endangered, lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) from Near Threatened to Vulnerable, and the Atlantic nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) from Data Deficient to Vulnerable.

'The latest reassessments highlight that fishing is causing population declines across the spectrum of these ancient animals,' Dr Cornish said. 'Whether rays or sharks, those on sunlit coral reefs, far offshore, or in the deep oceans, large and small – few groups are unscathed.'

 

Sharks: Restoring the Balance is a joint global programme of WWF and TRAFFIC focusing on shark and ray conservation. Founded in 2014, the programme supports conservation teams working in over 20 countries and territories across 6 continents and focuses on fisheries management, trade, and consumption. Visit sharks.panda.org to learn more.

 

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