January 20, 2010
Protecting Porbeagle Sharks
These imperiled sharks need Endangered Species Act safeguards
When you say "shark," people often picture a great white or a hammerhead. One of the least familiar species could use a lot more attention right now: the imperiled porbeagle. That's why The Humane Society of the United States is calling on the federal government to give Endangered Species Act protections to this quickly disappearing shark.
What kind of beagle?
The origin of the porbeagle's odd name isn't known, but many think it's a combination of porpoise (shape) and beagle (hunting skill). These sharks have stocky bodies, grow to up to 12 feet long, and have conical snouts and large gill slits.
They can live up to 45 years and females do not become pregnant until about age 13. They give live birth to around 4 pups every 1-2 years.
Although porbeagles are 'warm blooded' (that is, they can maintain a body well above the cold ocean temperatures), they're found in cold water—from the northeastern coast of North America to Greenland, and also off Europe, south of South America, and southeast of the African continent.
What's the problem?
Porbeagles are at the top of a food chain. Like all apex predators, they help assure balance in the ocean ecosystem. They are one of the few large sharks that prefer colder waters, where they feed on a variety of small fish, squid, and even other sharks.
Commercial fishing has pushed the porbeagle to the brink of extinction. In the past 40 years, up to 90% of the population has been wiped out. Porbeagles are also frequent targets of shark tournaments in the northeast, which encourage fishermen to catch the largest shark for big cash prizes.
In 2006 the National Marine Fisheries Service added the porbeagle to its Species of Concern list. But it didn't follow through by making it a prohibited species, a status that would require fishermen to release porbeagles if they are caught. It's the only shark on that list that isn't also listed as prohibited.
While NMFS ignores the porbeagle's plight, international bodies have declared it endangered. And Sweden is heading a coalition of countries seeking to increase global protection for the species at the 2010 meeting of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.
The United States should protect the porbeagle
On January 21, HSUS senior vice president John Grandy Ph.D. sent a petition to the Commerce Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (parent agency for NMFS), urging that porbeagles be listed as endangered under the ESA and that the federal government ban porbeagle fishing in U.S. waters.
In order for the porbeagle to survive, it must receive better federal protection. The HSUS is determined to see that NMFS safeguards this ancient and important little-known species from the threat of extinction. Stay tuned for updates.