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Declining Shark Populations

a fish in a dark cloudy sky

Sharks have been swimming in the oceans for more than 400 million years, but in recent decades their populations have declined dramatically. Since the 1970s, some populations by more than 90%.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to this, including overfishing, habitat loss, climate change, and bycatch.

Overfishing is one of the biggest threats facing shark populations. Sharks are highly valued for their meat, fins, and other products, and are targeted by commercial fishing operations around the world. The practice of shark finning, which involves removing the fins and discarding the rest of the shark, has had a particularly devastating impact on shark populations.

Habitat loss is also a significant factor. Many shark species rely on specific habitats, such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, and estuaries for feeding, breeding, and resting. These habitats have been degraded and destroyed by human activities such as coastal development, pollution, and climate change.

Climate change is another major threat. Rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification can have a range of negative impacts on marine ecosystems, including changes in the distribution and abundance of key prey species. This can lead to reduced food availability for sharks and other predators, which can ultimately impact their survival and reproductive success.

Bycatch, the accidental capture of non-target species in fishing gear, is also a major issue. Sharks are often caught as bycatch in a variety of fishing operations, including longlining and gillnetting. This can have a significant impact on shark populations, particularly for species that are already vulnerable due to other threats.

Despite the many challenges, there is still hope for conservation. Efforts to reduce overfishing and regulate the shark fin trade have gained momentum in recent years, and a number of countries have implemented measures to protect shark populations. Additionally, habitat restoration and conservation initiatives can help to create more suitable habitats for sharks and other marine organisms.

By raising awareness of the threats facing sharks and taking action to protect their habitats and reduce overfishing and bycatch, we can work toward securing a brighter future for these iconic and important species.

By Gina Glazer, Shark Safety Diver


Dulvy, N. K., et al. “Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays.” Elife 3 (2014): e00590.

Baum, J. K., et al. “Collapse and conservation of shark populations in the Northwest Atlantic.” Science 299.5605 (2003): 389-392.

Worm, B., et al. “Global catches, exploitation rates, and rebuilding options for sharks.” Marine Policy 40 (2013): 194-204.

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