National Protection for the Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Landing a spot on the U.S. Endangered Species list is an unusual mix of good and bad news for animals threatened with extinction. The bad: Well, they’re threatened with extinction. We covered that. Try to keep up. The good: The U.S. Endangered Species Act is one of the strongest wildlife conservation laws out there, and it comes with plenty of perks.
In July 2014, the United States listed several populations of the scalloped hammerhead as legally endangered. It’s actually the first shark to “earn” this distinction. It’s the kind of designation you really don’t want—like being the first person in history to become a zombie or the first person to be diagnosed with some new disease.
But back to the sharks—they’re now legally endangered across the country, with four of the six distinct populations of scalloped hammerheads classified as threatened or endangered by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
How did this happen, you ask? Us, of course. (I mean, probably not you, specifically—at least we hope not!—but humans.) The scalloped hammerhead is prized in the shark fin trade due to its large fin size and high fin ray count. The practice of shark finning involves catching sharks, cutting off their fins and throwing the bodies back into the water, where they’ll likely die. The fins are used in shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy in China. These days, a wholesale, unprocessed hammerhead fin can sell for $45 to $100—PER POUND. So, as you can imagine, fishermen around the world aren’t all on the side of conservationists.
These unique-looking sharks are also the victims of bycatch, meaning they’re accidentally caught by commercial fishermen looking to catch other fish. Even if they’re released following capture, the scalloped hammerhead is unlikely to survive the stress of all of it.
So what can the Endangered Species Act do for these beautiful creatures? In addition to safeguarding the scalloped hammerhead in U.S. waters, it's also sending the message to the rest of the world that our nation is concerned about these sharks—and other countries should be too.
Scalloped hammerheads are now entitled to more legal protections, including restrictions on the sale, trade or ownership of scalloped hammerheads and products derived from them; closer monitoring of fisheries; harsher penalties for bycatch injuries; and more. Hopefully, other countries follow suit and help create a brighter future for the species.
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