Newly discovered sharks swimming into troubled waters

Sydney, Australia: Indiscriminant fishing and the shark fin soup trade are key threats facing around 100 new shark and ray species discovered recently off the coasts of Australia. The discoveries, by Australia’s leading scientific research organization CSIRO, will be considered by 60 of the world’s leading shark experts in Sydney this week.

“It is a major scientific breakthrough,” said WWF-Australia fisheries manager Peter Trott.

The Oceania Chondrichthyan Society’s opening workshop, hosted by WWF-Australia, will help set the agenda for future research on the new species.

Many of the species are elusive or live in remote and isolated places like Australia’s Coral Sea, a world-renowned marine predator hotspot, and they include one so rare that the only example was found in the belly of another shark.

Recent research by Australian and international researchers revealed that confusion between separate species of sharks and rays meant that new, rare or endangered species may have been mistaken for a similar looking, but more common species and inadvertently taken by fishermen.

“We are literally fishing in the dark when it comes to sharks and rays,” said Trott. “In many cases we simply do not know what species we are plucking from Australian waters.

“We now need to know what changes in management are needed to conserve these animals, and that is what the experts will try to answer.”

Various shark species cull injured and sick animals from the ocean and thus play an important ecological role. Without such shark species the oceans would be teeming with dead and dying fish.

Yet millions of sharks are killed each year by humans, with many killed deliberately for their fins which are made into shark’s fin soup. This practice is cruel and wasteful as the fins are cut off and the rest of the shark is thrown back into the sea.

Mr Trott said he expected the scientists to urgently call for more funding to research sharks and for stronger fisheries management to identify those sharks that were caught by commercial fishers.

“Sharks play a crucial role in the balance and health of marine ecosystems,” he said. “They are slow-growing, long-lived and produce few young, which leaves them extremely vulnerable to overfishing.

“We cannot afford to lose sharks from our oceans. If we cannot afford to manage them properly, then it might be best to leave them alone.”

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