First Shark Species Listed Under the Endangered Species Act

Four Populations of Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Gain Much Needed Protections

Washington, DC – In response to a 2011 petition by WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals, today the National Marine Fisheries Service (Fisheries Service) listed four populations of scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of severe threats posed by human exploitation. Shark species worldwide are dwindling in the face of heavy fishing pressures; sharks are killed for their meat and fins, which are used in highly controversial shark-fin soup. Sharks are also accidentally caught and killed in the course of fishing operations targeting other species. Experts consider fishing the greatest threat to all sharks.

“It’s sobering that we must begin adding shark species to the endangered species list,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Our oceans are in serious trouble and this is only the first step toward protecting and restoring the ocean ecosystems these amazing carnivores call home.”

Most sharks, including the scalloped hammerhead, play an important role in maintaining oceanic ecosystems as apex carnivores. Ecosystem stability and biodiversity, main goals of the ESA, can seriously suffer from the removal of a top predator. Scalloped hammerheads can be grouped into six distinct populations distinguished by genetics, geography, and behavior. The ESA allows populations to be listed in the same way as an entire species or subspecies as long as they are distinct and significant. This allows for the protection of important genetic variation and unique behaviors that might otherwise be lost. The listing rule protects the Central and Southwest Atlantic Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and the Indo-West Pacific DPS as “threatened” and the Eastern Atlantic and Eastern Pacific DPSs as “endangered.”

“The listing of the scalloped hammerhead is an important indication that the human exploitation of marine species has taken its toll.” said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “In fact, nearly half of all marine species worldwide face the threat of extinction as a result of anthropogenic action, including destructive fishing methods, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification. It is about time that our government took action to protect hammerheads; now they should do the same for the many species still awaiting review under the ESA.”

Listing species under the Endangered Species Act is a proven effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals listed under the Act persist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listing. Listing species with a global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species.