Some good news for sharks yesterday, as delegates to a global wildlife summit approved protections for five species of sharks and two species of rays.
First, here’s what happened yesterday: delegates to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok voted to require that any country now must prove that their catches of porbeagle sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks and three species of hammerhead sharks are sustainable and legal before allowing the sharks (or their parts, such as fins) to be exported.
Supporters of the trade restrictions have cited published findings showing that as many as 100 million sharks are killed each year in commercial fisheries – either accidentally as by-catch or intentionally. That removes sharks from the environment much faster than sharks can reproduce. Thus, populations of many shark species have plummeted – and removing the top predator from any habitat can throw off the delicate ecological balance.
(In the northwestern Atlantic, for example, overfishing has reduced the porbeagle shark population by nearly 90 percent.)
Up until this week, only great whites, basking sharks and whale sharks were protected under CITES.
Maritime Aquarium visitors may have helped to influence yesterday’s vote. Last month, we joined in the efforts of an organization called Shark Defenders by encouraging our visitors to make or print out a cartoon hammerhead shark named Shark Stanley, take their picture with it and email it to their country’s CITES delegation in support of shark protections.
Armed with nearly 10,000 Shark Stanleys emailed from 135 countries, Shark Defenders has been a presence in Bangkok.
Shark Defenders cheered yesterday’s vote but aren’t resting yet. Before the CITES convention ends, a country can move to reopen the vote and try to overturn the safeguards. Shark Defenders and other groups are asking supporters to send emails to their country’s delegates asking them to stand by their vote.
They make it very easy to do. Go to www.sharkdefenders.com and click on your country’s link. Clicking on the link will open an email message box addressed to your CITES delegate with “Stand By Your Vote – Don’t Reopen CITES Shark Vote” in the subject line. Write a quick message (or not, the subject line is enough) and hit send.
Tell ’em Shark Stanley sent you.