Shark SOS: New initiation to save the oceans' largest predators

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A new conservation organisation has launched this month with the mandate of protecting some of the oceans' most vulnerable animals - sharks.

Shark Advocates International is a not-for-profit organisation with the specific aim of agreeing international fishing limits for sharks and rays, and enforcing full protection for the most vulnerable species.

It also hopes to strengthen bans on finning, the practice of slicing off the fish's fins and discarding the body,  and implement management programmes in developing fisheries. As its president, Sonja Fordham, says "Sharks are among the oceans' most vulnerable animals and now – more than ever – they need our help".

The impetus for a dedicated shark conservation organisation arose due to the stalling of global policy to protect the family. Although some species are protected by the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Specie (CITES), none of the eight species –  spiny dogfish, porbeagle, oceanic whitetip, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, dusky or sandbar shark –  recently proposed for inclusion on an updated list were included. Heike Zidowitz, head of the Shark Alliance delegation to the recent CITES conference labelled the decision as "deeply regrettable" as it would "leave some of the oceans’ most vulnerable and heavily traded species at great risk from unregulated, international trade."

Following these disappointments, Fordham is adamant that conservationists need to re-double their efforts: "more work and a faster pace of advancement are needed to ensure that these remarkable fish survive and thrive".

As is all too often seen, exploitation from humankind underlies the reduction in shark numbers. Shark are commonly landed as by-catch, with an estimated 100 million fish discarded annually. Maintaining populations at a sustainable level is particularly problematic due to sharks'  long life spans and slow reproductive cycle.