Whale sharks receive protections in migration hot spots

November 7, 2017, 8:11 a.m.
whale shark
Photo: Krzysztof Odziomek/Shutterstock

Just when it seems the oceans are getting less and less hospitable to marine life, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) of Wild Animals has expanded protections for endangered shark and ray species, including whale sharks.

Whale sharks, angel sharks, blue sharks, dusky sharks, common guitarfish and white-spotted wedgefish will now receive protections either through individual governments or through international cooperation and agreements.

Looking at the whale shark's situation helps explain how this works. The whale shark had been on the CMS's list of protected species in 2015, and was upgraded from Appendix II to Appendix I. With this designation, participating countries that whale sharks visit as part of their migrations will take steps that call for "prohibiting the taking of such species, with very restricted scope for exceptions; conserving and where appropriate restoring their habitats; preventing, removing or mitigating obstacles to their migration and controlling other factors that might endanger them."

The Appendix I designation will "lead to enhanced protection in places like Madagascar, Mozambique, Peru and Tanzania" for the whale shark, according to Matt Collis, acting director for international environmental agreements at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The other sharks and rays were added to Appendix II, which means that countries will work together, either through treaties or other means, to offer protection to the aquatic creatures. Collis highlighted the boon this represented for the blue shark in particular, and that the Appendix II listing will apply pressure that better regulates these catches.

"The blue shark is one of the most highly migratory of all sharks, undertaking long-distance migrations across international waters, putting it at huge risk from overfishing, whether targeted (deliberate) catches or (incidental) bycatch [...]. Until now, no protection existed throughout its entire range, and there is no management of blue shark fisheries or regulation of international trade despite approximately 20 million blue sharks being caught every year in fisheries around the globe," Collis wrote.

CMS member countries also agreed to work together to reduce the negative effects of noise pollution, marine debris and climate change on these and land-based migratory species.

The United States is currently not a member of the CMS, but it has served as a signatory on previous agreements regarding sea turtles, sharks and dolphins.

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