Oceanic whitetip sharks, a species particularly popular among scuba divers and a few decades ago the most common pelagic shark in the tropical oceans, have been reclassified from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered globally, with devastating population declines of up to 98% reported.
The news, part of an update of the IUCN Red List on the conservation status of 29 species of sharks, rays and skates, has coincided with failure at the annual meeting of the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) for member-states to agree on improved protection for the species.
An almost-95% decline in the oceanic whitetip population of the western and central Pacific has been described as “catastrophic” by WWF International. The wildlife conservation charity had urged the WCPFC to adopt a recovery plan to save the species from extinction in an area that covers almost 20% of the Earth’s surface.
It also wanted to improve the plight of other sharks and rays targeted by the international sharkfin trade and bycatch in Pacific tuna fisheries. However the meeting, which closed on 11 December, ended in disappointment, according to WWF.
“The commission’s annual meeting was the first real opportunity for the member-states to act on these alarming findings,” it said. “Unfortunately, they did not rise up to the challenge. The tragic situation of the oceanic whitetip shark was not substantially addressed during the meeting, with no opportunity to even consider a much-needed recovery plan as a solution.”
Member-states did adopt an updated Conservation & Management Measure (CMM) for sharks, including for the first time a “fins-naturally-attached” policy. WWF said that, while this was the most effective way to eliminate shark-finning at sea, the policy also included a set of alternative measures that were likely to limit its effectiveness.