The year 2011 saw a reported 12 shark deaths worldwide, the most since 1993, according to National Geographic.
By contrast, a new report estimates that humans kill 100 million sharks every year. The scientists behind the report, published in the journal Marine Policy, added that the number of sharks killed could be anywhere between 63 million and 273 million, staggering figures that experts say could drive many shark species to endangerment or even extinction.
A report released in 2009 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature stated that more than 30 percent of the 64 species of sharks and rays assessed by the group were found to be threatened or near-threatened with extinction. The cause? Overfishing.
Great hammerhead, scalloped hammerhead and smooth hammerhead sharks, as well as great whites, were all considered either endangered or vulnerable animals, according to IUCN experts.
“Despite mounting threats, sharks remain virtually unprotected on the high seas,” said Sonja Fordham, deputy chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and policy director for the Shark Alliance, according to a 2009 statement released by the organization. “The vulnerability and lengthy migrations of most open ocean sharks mean they need coordinated, international conservation plans. Our report documents serious overfishing of these species, in national and international waters, and demonstrates a clear need for immediate action on a global scale.”
As the website for Pew Charitable Trusts' global shark conservation initiative points out, many sharks are killed for shark fin soup, a delicacy still consumed in many Asian countries. Often, to get the sought-after part of the shark, the fin of the animal is sliced off and the shark is left to die at sea.
"In general, sharks grow slowly, mature late and produce few young over long lifetimes, leaving them exceptionally vulnerable to overexploitation and slow to recover from depletion," reads a statement on the initiative's website. "As key predators, their depletion also has risks for the health of entire ocean ecosystems."
To learn more about sharks and how to help them, go to the website for Pew Charitable Trusts' global shark conservation initiative here, or the Shark Conservation Society here.