hammerhead shark

Groups Seek Protection for Scalloped Hammerheads Threatened by Fish Commerce and “Finning”

Washington, DC ““ In the wake of “Shark Week,” and following their action taken last week to protect porbeagle sharks, WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals are seeking protection for another “wolf of the sea”- scalloped hammerhead sharks. The groups today submitted a petition to the National Marine and Fisheries Service seeking to list these imperiled predators as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The hammerhead’s name describes a characteristic elongated, flattened head, which on the scalloped hammerhead has distinctive, curved indentations along the front edge. Scalloped hammerhead sharks can live to age 30. Adults usually travel alone or in pairs, but juveniles gather in large schools. Most sharks, including scalloped hammerheads, play an important role as apex predators in maintaining ocean bio-communities. Ecosystem stability and biodiversity, congressional priorities for the ESA, could seriously suffer from the loss of these top predators.

“To paraphrase Jaws, scalloped hammerheads are going to need a bigger boat to survive,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians.

“This petition is the first step in getting these sharks aboard the legal ark of the Endangered Species Act.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the scalloped hammerhead species as “endangered” on its Red List. These sharks live in coastal waters in portions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. All scalloped hammerhead populations are threatened by fish commerce-the main cause of population declines.

Scalloped hammerhead sharks have very high commercial value. While scalloped hammerheads are especially coveted for their fins, which are used in dishes such as shark-fin soup, the shark’s flesh is also sold in various forms as food, the hides are commercially valued, and the remainder is used for vitamins and fishmeal for agribusiness use. The commercial value of the species, combined with the sharks’ slow rate of reproduction, makes them highly vulnerable to exploitation.

Lee Hall, of Friends of Animals, said, “Shark exploitation must be confronted if scalloped hammerheads and other sharks are to survive and thrive.”

The practice of “finning” is of particular concern for scalloped hammerheads and other sharks. In this practice, crews land the sharks and remove only their fins, disposing of the remainder of the animals overboard and leaving disabled sharks to drown or die of starvation. By taking the fins only, crews catch and kill many more sharks than their boats could hold-and many more than can be officially recorded as losses to the bio-community.

Hong Kong is a primary hub for the shark fin trade, and as China’s economy strengthens, demand for the expensive shark-fin soup rises.

Few regulations currently protect hammerhead sharks. Listing species under the Endangered Species Act has proven an effective safety mechanism: 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 far 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 global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species.