US lists four hammerhead shark species under Endangered Species Act

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US lists four hammerhead shark species under Endangered Species Act

July 18, 2014 - 17:14
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New listing protects Atlantic and Pacific populations in US waters. Proponents say ESA Listing an effective safety net for imperiled species

Scalloped hammerhead shark

The US National Marine Fisheries Service has listed four populations of scalloped hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini, under the American Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“It’s sobering that we must begin adding shark species to the endangered species list,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians, an American non-profit organization. “Our oceans are in serious trouble and this is only the first step toward protecting and restoring the ocean ecosystems that these amazing carnivores call home.”

Scalloped hammerheads can be grouped into six distinct populations distinguished by genetics, geography, and behaviour. The new listing rule protects the Central and Southwest Atlantic populations and the Indo-West Pacific populations as Threatened, and the Eastern Atlantic and Eastern Pacific populations as Endangered.

“The listing of the scalloped hammerhead is an important indication that the human exploitation of marine species has taken its toll,” said Michael Harris, Director of the Wildlife Law Program launched by the American organization Friends of Animals, to use environmental laws to protect wildlife and their habitats. “It is about time that our government took action to protect hammerheads. Now they should do the same for the many species still awaiting review under the ESA,” he added.

Sharks are also accidentally caught and killed in the course of fishing operations targeting other species. Many experts consider fishing to be the greatest threat to the future of all shark species. Listing under the ESA has proven to be an effective safety net for imperiled species, with proponents saying the law is a vital safeguard against the current extinction crisis. Most sharks, including the scalloped hammerhead, maintain oceanic ecosystems as apex carnivores.

Shark species worldwide are dwindling in the face of heavy fishing pressures, with animals killed for their meat and fins. Ecosystem stability and biodiversity can suffer from the removal of this top predator.