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Surprising News about Sharks and Rays

Jan. 29/14

According to the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG), ray species are at a higher risk than sharks. Through a first ever global study of extinction risk according to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ criteria, the SSG estimates a quarter of the world’s sharks and rays threatened with extinction. Of the 1,041 species assessed, 107 rays and 74 sharks are classified as threatened. 

Significant policy strides have been made over the last two decades, but effective shark and ray conservation requires a dramatic acceleration in pace

Sonja Fordham, IUCN SSG Deputy Chair and president of Shark Advocates International

Are rays the new sharks in terms of conservation urgency? Widespread public awareness, media attention, and protection policies tend to focus on sharks, yet rays make up five out of the seven most threatened families of cartilaginous fishes.

Because they grow slowly and produce few young, both sharks and rays are exceptionally susceptible to overexploitation – including overfishing from targeted fishing, bycatch and finning. Several large, filter feeding species, like Manta Rays are also very easy targets, moving slowly through the water in predictable aggregations. Mantas and closely related devil rays are being fished at an alarming rate for the international gill raker trade – see Project AWARE’s infographic: Manta and Devil Rays at Risk

Thanks in large part to compelling arguments from the diving community, the exceptionally beautiful manta rays have received conservation attention on par with that of the most charismatic sharks in recent years. While this represents terrific progress, the IUCN study reminds us that hundreds of other closely related species -- especially guitarfish, sawfish, skates and stingrays - also need our attention.

“Significant policy strides have been made over the last two decades, but effective shark and ray conservation requires a dramatic acceleration in pace as well as an expansion of scope to include all shapes and sizes of these exceptional species. Our analysis clearly demonstrates that the need for such action is urgent,” said Sonja Fordham, IUCN SSG Deputy Chair and president of the Washington, DC-based Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation.

Healthy shark and ray populations are priceless. Threats loom large for many species, but we assert that ‘Extinction is not an option’! Thanks to your support, Project AWARE has helped support many significant protections for both sharks and rays including recent CITES protections for five species of highly traded sharks, two manta rays and one species of sawfish. But we won’t stop there. We need your continued support to keep up the pressure for their protection.  

As an international NGO member of IUCN, Project AWARE works alongside world leaders to make strong arguments for change. This year marks the 50th year of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ - a powerful tool to inform and prompt conservation and policy action to protect the world’s natural resources. To view the shark and ray assessment in more detail, or see associated fact sheets, photos, and press material, visit the IUCN website. 

Photo by Matt Potenski