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Humans pose greater threat to shark population

Published May 28, 2007


LAS BARRANCAS, Mexico - Year after year, beach season brings accounts of harrowing shark attacks as people around the world plunge into the surf to escape summer's heat.

But the reality is that these fearsome predators kill an average of four people worldwide every year, while humans kill anywhere from 26-million to 73-million sharks annually, according to recent calculations by an international team of scientists.

With the latter toll mounting rapidly, there has been a growing realization that something must be done to prevent sharks from disappearing from the planet.

Much of the hunt for sharks is driven by the growing demand for shark-fin soup, a prized delicacy that conveys a sense of status in Asian countries.

Two weeks ago, Mexico enacted a new law that protects three species, bans the practice of shark "finning" - slicing off the fins of a newly caught shark and tossing the animal back in the ocean to die - and requires authorities to monitor the activities of large shark-fishing boats. Next month, officials from around the globe will meet in The Hague, Netherlands, to decide whether to put tight new controls on the trade in two heavily fished species, spiny dogfish and porbeagle.

"For most of human history, sharks have been seen as a threat to us, " David Balton, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans and fisheries, said. "Only recently are we beginning to see we're a threat to them."

In March, a team of Canadian and U.S. scientists calculated that between 1970 and 2005, the number of scalloped hammerhead and tiger sharks may have declined by more than 97 percent along the East Coast, and that the population of bull, dusky and smooth hammerhead sharks dropped by more than 99 percent.

[Last modified May 28, 2007, 00:24:51]

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