Originally posted at www.conservation.org on 7/28/11
Earlier this week, MSNBC reported a shark “massacre” in which hundreds of sharks were found dead aboard a fishing vessel captured while fishing illegally in the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Scott Henderson, director of CI’s Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape program and shark expert, responds.
In the 30 years since I first arrived on the Galápagos Islands as a wide-eyed biology student, I have seen plenty to keep my eyes popping. I’ve witnessed some of nature’s most impressive wildlife spectacles — vast schools of hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini), grand aggregations of Galápagos sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis) and even ‘mini-schools’ of the ocean’s biggest fish, the colossal whale shark (Rhincodon typus).
I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of watching shark populations decline, mostly due to overfishing and illegal fishing in protected areas. However, thanks to improved policies to reduce shark fishing, better enforcement capacity through a state-of-the-art Vessel Monitoring System, and growing political commitment in Ecuador to control the hemorrhage of shark products — especially fins destined for the lucrative Chinese market — shark fishing in the Galápagos Marine Reserve has been greatly reduced in the past few years.
Which is why news of last week’s “shark massacre” has come as such an unsettling surprise.