The Odds of Sharks Reaching Extinction in the Next 30 Years

Try to imagine a world without sharks. It should be hard to comprehend, but new research has found that it could very much become a reality within the next few decades – unless human habits drastically change.

A painting of a scuba diver and great white shark meeting head on
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Older Than Time

Sharks have been on this planet for far longer than any human life form. It’s believed that the first sharks roamed the waters as far back as 420 million years ago. Yes, that means their existence dates right back to before the time of the dinosaurs. Nowadays there are more than 500 different species of shark living in the oceans.

That makes their current plight even more tragic – knowing that sharks had survived whatever disaster caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs only to now face extinction themselves through the malicious activities of humanity.

Species Facing Total Wipeout

The relationship between surfers and sharks might be one of a love-hate variety, but it’s almost certain that surfing will out-live the elasmobranch fish. It is estimated that 100 million sharks are being killed every year. That’s equivalent to a shark being killed once every 3.17 seconds. If this continues then we could see the total extinction of sharks before the year 2040.

There are 10 species of shark that are currently listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) including the daggernose shark, striped smooth-hound, and sawback angel shark.

Another 15 species such as the scalloped hammerhead, broadfin shark, and Honeycomb Izak are considered endangered. Dozens of more species are then deemed vulnerable including some of the most renowned such as the great white shark, basking shark, and whale shark.

Dead sharks that have been hunted by fishermen
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Why Is This Happening?

Commercial and recreational fishing has led to a huge increase in the number of sharks being killed every year. A number of Asian countries consider shark fin soup as a symbol of an individual’s social standing.

Sadly, the process for killing a large percentage of these sharks is also cruel on the animals. Fishermen will often fin the sharks when caught. This is the act of cutting the fins off the sharks when they are alive and returning them to the water to suffocate or be eaten by predators. This brutal procedure has been adopted because the fin is the most lucrative part of a shark, and it saves the fishermen huge costs by only having to transport the fin instead of the whole shark.

In 2010, the US and Palau put forward a proposal to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, looking to strictly regulate the trade of a number of species of shark, including hammerhead and dogfish sharks. Unfortunately, the proposal faced heavy opposition led by China and Japan. The proposal failed to win the appropriate support.

During 2014, the Western Australia state government introduced a policy of killing large sharks after a number of high-profile human deaths from shark attacks. The use of baited drum lines led to criticism that the government was mass culling the sharks, but this allegation was denied by the government. The process was eventually altered so that catch-and-kill techniques could no longer be used.

It’s fair to say that the public image of the shark has taken a battering in modern times. The success of the Jaws franchise by Steven Spielberg has no doubt contributed to that. The media interest generated by rare shark attacks has also encouraged a more hostile attitude towards the magnificent creatures that roam the seas.

The reality is that the odds of you being killed in a shark attack are 3,748,067/1. Compare that to 63/1 for being killed by flu, 565/1 of dying in an automobile accident, 75,000/1 of an asteroid impact, 308,629/1 of being stung to death by wasps, bees, or hornets, and 2,000,000/1 on death by falling out of bed.

You can calculate your own chances of having an encounter using the tool in our full odds of being in a shark attack article.

A great white shark rising out of the water to strike
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What Is a World Without Sharks?

The day when sharks might not exist is fast approaching, but what would it mean? The obvious impact would be on the food chain. As relatively big fish, sharks eat a vast range of smaller fish that, in turn, eat smaller fish. This goes right down to the fish that eat algae in the water. If there are no sharks to eat them, the smaller fish would become top of the food chain, consuming more of the smallest, algae-consuming fish and meaning we could end up seeing murkier waters full of algae.

Sharks essentially play a key role in the maintenance of the Earth’s eco-system. This is due to millions of years of evolution. If sharks were suddenly removed from that eco-system the consequences could be devastating for marine life – even more so than simply having more algae in our seas.

The odds of sharks becoming extinct within the next generation are looking depressingly strong. It’s most unsettling that the number of sharks being killed yearly is staying at such a high level, and more so because there seems to be no real appetite to take action to reduce it.

Just a decade ago, it was expected that the extinction of sharks could be experienced within the next 100 to 200 years. That number has now been slashed to the next few decades. The deafening silence from the majority of governments across the world suggests that the clock is ticking for sharks on this planet, and time has almost run out.