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Sharks of the Open Ocean Book

Sharks of the Open Ocean bookCo-editors: Dr. Ellen Pikitch, Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, Dr. Elizabeth A. Babcock, University of Miami, and Dr. Merry D. Camhi

Most oceanic shark populations worldwide are at grave risk from destructive high-seas commercial fishing practices and a rising global demand for shark products. Some shark populations are severely depleted, and only a few are stable or recovering. Institute for Ocean Conservation Science shark experts have co-edited a comprehensive book, Sharks of the Open Ocean, that provides a critical contribution to the body of knowledge about open-ocean sharks and rays, which are among the least-studied predators but are vital to health ocean ecosystems. With research from more than 70 top shark scientists and experts from throughout the world, the book offers the first thoro
ugh review of the biology, threats, and management outlook for open-ocean sharks and rays.

Sharks of the Open Ocean documents just how threatened the populations of open ocean sharks have become. The book finds that current management actions, while effective in certain areas, are still inadequate to protect sharks that have roamed the oceans for more than 400 million years—before the first dinosaurs appeared on Earth. Ocean shark populations that were once abundant and widely distributed have declined within just a few decades due to the staggering impact of modern fishing fleets. These fleets routinely deploy miles-long fishing lines into the water. A typical “longline” stretches 50 miles -- the length of the entire state of Rhode Island -- and has 1,200 baited hooks hanging from it. In 2006, there were an estimated 114 million longline hooks in the Atlantic Ocean, killing not only targeted species but also animals not being sought (known as bycatch). Pursuit of sharks for their fins and meat is also a serious threat to the species’ survival. Millions of sharks are still killed each year solely for their fins. Typically, fishermen slice off the fins and dump the carcasses at sea. Demand for fins and meat is putting intensified pressure on already depleted species including threshers, shortfin mako, blue and porbeagle sharks.

Shark populations can recover from overexploitation, but not without the protection of strong conservation measures. Co-editors Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch and Dr. Elizabeth A. Babcock call for improved regulatory management at the national and international levels to rebuild shark populations before it is too late. Similar strong measures have been successfully used to restore stocks of other marine species. Salmon shark populations in the North Pacific are stable as a result of a 1991 United Nations ban on high seas driftnet fisheries that allowed the stocks to rebuild, and domestic management measures that are maintaining that progress. As of spring 2008, more than 20 countries and 9 regional fishery organizations had banned the wasteful practice of finning sharks--an encouraging start, though many more countries need to follow suit.

Many species of sharks and rays, particularly those that spend significant time in open ocean waters, have long been a mystery to humans due to difficulties in studying their remote movement patterns and life histories. Sharks of the Open Ocean documents that high-seas sharks are the predominant species captured by a wide range of commercial fishing methods, and they are among the most popular species used for shark fin soup in Asia. Oceanic sharks are particularly at risk from overfishing because they are caught in international waters where there are no limits on the amount of sharks taken. The 11 species of sharks and one stingray addressed in this book live part or all of their lives in waters distant from continental land masses. Most are “apex predators,” at the top of the oceanic food chain and very important in maintaining ocean food webs. When their populations crash, the ecosystems in which they reign become less healthy.

Published in 2008 by Blackwell Publishing, Sharks of the Open Ocean also compiles a wealth of fascinating information about the biology of ocean-going sharks, from the charismatic white and mako sharks to the poorly known pelagic stingray. These sharks migrate thousands of miles across entire ocean basins, the book reveals. They also congregate in certain parts of the ocean to feed, mate and give birth, indicating that closing such areas to fishing would be a useful conservation step. The book also highlights some approaches adopted by experts working to protect sharks and rays, and provides a roadmap for effective management of these magnificent predators in the near future.

More Information:  Order “Sharks of the Open Ocean”  |  Ellen Pikitch, PhD  |  Elizabeth Babcokc, PhD

shark fins
A pile of shark fins photographed in Hong Kong, China. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in high demand in Asia,
where it sells for as much as $100 a bowl. Photo: Jessica King/Marine Photobank

Mako shark
A small mako shark hooked (and later released) during a tuna fishing trip off Cape Town, South Africa.
Photo: Fiona Ayerst/Marine Photobank


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