Great Hammerhead Sharks Will Be Considered for Endangered Species Act Protection

hammer2Press Release

WildEarth Guardians


Great Hammerheads Threatened by Commercial Exploitation, “Finning”

Washington, DC –National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will consider listing the great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) as “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agency has made a positive preliminary finding on a petition by WildEarth Guardians and will conduct a 12-month review of the species to determine if listing is warranted. The agency stated that the primary threat to this species appears to be exploitation by fisheries.  

“Sharks are the wolves of the sea, and like wolves they are heavily persecuted,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “If we want to save the top predators in our oceans, we need to protect them under the Endangered Species Act.”

The hammerhead’s name describes its characteristic elongated, flattened head. The great hammerhead shark is the largest of the hammerhead species, with adults averaging over 500 pounds and reaching lengths of up to 20 feet. Most sharks, including great 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.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the great hammerhead as “endangered” on its Red List, but the designation offers no regulatory protection. Great hammerhead sharks have very high commercial value and are especially coveted for their fins, which are used in dishes such as shark-fin soup. The commercial value of the species, combined with the sharks’ slow rate of reproduction, makes them highly vulnerable to exploitation. The practice of “finning” is of particular concern for great 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. Even if the sharks are not directly targeted, their high value means they will be generally kept if caught as bycatch – and even if the fishers wanted to let them go, great hammerheads suffer a high mortality rate when caught of more than 90 percent.

Similar concerns led NMFS to issue a positive preliminary finding on Guardians’ petition for the closely-related scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) in November 2011. These species so closely resemble each other that fishers and enforcement personnel have difficulty telling the species apart, especially from parts such as fins. Protection for one of these sharks would therefore be undermined without equal protection for the other.

Listing species under the Endangered Species Act has proven an 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.

Source: WildEarth Guardians


Federal Register, 26. April 2013 :

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; 90-Day Finding on Petitions
To List the Great Hammerhead Shark as Threatened or Endangered Under
the Endangered Species Act

Related Petition :

PETITION TO LIST THE Great Hammerhead Shark ( Sphyrna mokarran )

December 2012






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