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US Government Adds Oceanic White Tip Shark to List of Threatened Species

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The US government recently announced that the oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) will be listed as 'threatened' under the Endangered Species Act, the first shark to receive such protections in Atlantic US waters.

The oceanic whitetip is currently listed as 'vulnerable' on the IUCN red list, which has a broader range of categorisation for species threat levels. the Endangered Species Act has three categories which are 'candidate', a species under consideration for listing; 'threatened', meaning likely to become endangered and 'endangered', referring to species that are on the threshold of extinction.

As recently as 1969, in The Natural History of Sharks, by Thomas Lineaweaver and Richard Backus, the oceanic whitetip was referred to as 'extraordinarily abundant, perhaps the most abundant large animal, large being over 100 pounds [45 kg], on the face of the earth.' However, populations are estimated to have dropped by between 70 and 99 per cent in some regions, with the IUCN listing of the shark for Northwest and Western Central Atlantic areas becoming 'critically endangered' over the global status of vulnerable.

Much of the decline has been caused through the sharks being taken as bycatch by industrial fishing methods, and needless to say, their fins are highly prized on the Asian markets, now thought to kill as many as 100 million sharks of varying species, every year.

Shark finning is illegal in US waters, however, there is still a market within the United States for shark fin soup, often brought in from unsustainable fisheries in countries which have ineffectively policed shark finning bans or - in some countries - have no bans at all.

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 Whitney Webber, campaign director of the US-led conservation group Oceana, released a statement following the announcement:

'Today is an important day for shark conservation in the United States. However, the listing of the oceanic whitetip shark as threatened under the Endangered Species Act is only a first step, because the government has not yet established the protections this species needs to recover. The federal government should ensure the oceanic whitetip receives crucial protections, including the implementation of a plan to rebuild the population and efforts to reduce their chance of being incidentally caught in fishing gear.

 

Oceana is disappointed that critical habitat was not designated for the oceanic whitetip and that take prohibitions were not enacted at this time. We urge Secretary Wilbur Ross and the National Marine Fisheries Service to prohibit the catch of oceanic whitetip sharks following this listing as threatened throughout their range, and it is essential that critical habitat determinations be enacted soon.

 

Unfortunately for the oceanic whitetip, its fins are very valuable in the international shark fin trade, one of the driving factors for its decline. Although this listing is a positive step forward for the recovery of this shark, Congress still must pass a full ban in the United States on the buying and selling of shark fins to truly combat this global trade that has jeopardized the survival of many shark species.

 

Now that the oceanic whitetip shark is listed as 'threatened', the government should take steps to ensure that activities in the ocean, including commercial fishing, do not jeopardize the future of this iconic pelagic shark species.'

Several species that were previously listed and protected by the Endangered Species Act have successfully recovered, according to Oceana's report. If proper protections are put in place – such as the protection of critical habitats – it is hoped that similar results will be produced for the oceanic whitetip shark. Following the announcement of the new listing, the National Marine Fisheries Service and other US federal agencies are required to take steps to reverse the decline of the species, which are expected to be announced in the coming year.

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