WASHINGTON (USA)— The US National Marine Fisheries Service this week protected the oceanic whitetip shark as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The decision recognized threats from overfishing and bycatch in pelagic longline fishing gear as major reasons for drastic population declines. 

The listing responds to a petition from Defenders of Wildlife, with support from the Center for Biological Diversity, seeking federal protections of oceanic whitetip sharks after populations in some regions declined by more than 99 percent. Sharks have been in the news recently, from the Florida shark torture case to porn star Stormy Daniels revealing President Trump has an obsessive fear of sharks.

Threatened species

“This decision is hugely important given the role whitetip sharks play in healthy ocean ecosystems. While Trump may harbor irrational fears of sharks, these magnificent animals are actually far more threatened by humans than vice versa,” said Dr. Abel Valdivia, a marine ecologist at the Center for Biological Diversity in a press release. “Don’t worry, Mr. President, whitetip sharks aren’t a threat and aren’t based around Mar-a-Lago.”

Oceanic whitetip shark populations are threatened by intensive fishing by foreign commercial fisheries across the global oceans. Oceanic whitetip sharks are being caught as bycatch in tuna and swordfish fisheries using pelagic longlines. They are also directly targeted because their relatively large fins are traded on the international market.

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Oceanic Whitetip. Photo: Tom Weilenmann/Flickr Creative Commons.

Endangered Species Act protection

Endangered Species Act protection would provide increased legal safeguards for oceanic whitetip sharks to further avoid sharks being caught in fisheries under United States jurisdiction. The Fisheries Service determined that specific protective regulations on take and trade may be published in a future ruling.

“Oceanic whitetip sharks are fascinating and under-appreciated animals,” said Valdivia. “I’m pleasantly surprised that the federal government protected this species despite the president’s reported fears.”

In many portion of the species’ range, current U.S. fishery regulations prohibit retention of ocean whitetip sharks by persons under U.S. jurisdiction. Compliance with U.S. fisheries regulations could be improved. But the oceanic whitetip shark is a highly migratory species that spreads across ocean basins. Many pelagic longline fleets that catch the species have poor compliance with the enforcement of fisheries regulations.