More than 300 shark, ray species threatened with extinction, new report finds

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Thirty-one animal and fish species have been declared extinct and more than 300 species of sharks and rays are now threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which published a report Thursday.

Among those at risk are four hammerhead shark species, four species of angel shark and the giant manta ray. The organization’s report — its first comprehensive global update since 2014 — paints a grim picture of the health of the world’s oceans and their inhabitants, and highlights, in particular, the threat of overfishing.

“These findings are sadly predictable,” Andy Cornish, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s shark and ray conservation program, said in a statement. “Twenty years have passed since the international community recognized the threat of overfishing through the International Plan of Action for Sharks. Yet, obviously, not nearly enough has been done to halt the overfishing that is pushing these animals to the brink of extinction.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature regularly documents the state of the world’s animal and plant species and provides the most authoritative reports on those that are threatened, critically endangered or extinct.


In the group’s update, a total of 316 species of sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras are now classified as “threatened,” or at risk of extinction in the wild. All of the world’s freshwater dolphin species are also now threatened with extinction, according to the assessment.

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The lost shark, Carcharhinus obsoletus, a native of the South China Sea and last recorded in 1934, may already be extinct as a result of overfishing in one of the most heavily trafficked marine regions on the planet, the report found.

Cornish said the update should trigger “alarm bells” and motivate governments to take action to reduce overfishing of sharks and rays.

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“Failure to do so will inevitably result in a wave of extinctions happening on our watch,” he said in the statement. “We must seize the moment to stop that from happening.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature also found some glimmers of hope. The European bison, the largest land mammal in Europe, is showing signs of recovery, with its population in the wild growing from 1,800 in 2003 to more than 6,200 in 2019. The species was reintroduced to the wild in the 1950s and has been the focus of long-term conservation campaigns in the decades since. There are now 47 free-ranging European bison herds, according to the organization, with the largest numbers found in Poland, Belarus and Russia.

Twenty-five other species recoveries, including a type of tree frog native to Mexico, were documented by the group.

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These successes “provide living proof that the world can set, and meet, ambitious biodiversity targets,” Jane Smart, global director of its biodiversity conservation group, said in a statement.

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