Shark dive at dive site known a "Tiki", features Gray reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), highlighted by streaks of sunlight.  These majestic animals are frequent visitors to the reefs of Moorea.


Shark dive at dive site known a "Tiki", features Gray reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), highlighted by streaks of sunlight. These majestic animals are frequent visitors to the reefs of Moorea.

Photo by: Stephen Frink

Stephen Frink

Sharks are Nearly Extinct in the World's Reefs

By: Lucy Sherriff

Sharks are “too rare to fulfill their normal role in the ecosystem” according to a new study, and have become “functionally extinct” in one of five of the world’s coral reefs.

August 19, 2020

The study, conducted by Global FinPrint and published in the scientific journal Nature, surveyed 371 reefs in 58 countries.

Sharks were not found on 19% of the reefs, which indicated a “widespread decline that has gone undocumented on this scale until now”, Global FinPrint, a collaboration started by marine biologists Mike Heithaus and Demian Chapman, said.

Global Check-Up

The Dominican Republic, Kenya, Vietnam, Qatar, and the French West Indies are just some of the regions that are essentially devoid of sharks. In 800 hours of observing those nations, just three sharks were spotted.

The group focused on reef sharks, because they are easier to spot than the species in the high seas.

Humpback snapper (Lutjanus gibbus) break formation to make way for a Silvertip shark (Carcharhinus albimarginatus).


Humpback snapper (Lutjanus gibbus) break formation to make way for a Silvertip shark (Carcharhinus albimarginatus).

Photo by: Stephen Frink

Stephen Frink

Destructive fishing practices, as a result of dense populations and poor management, were attributed to being one of the main factors involved in species loss.

"Although our study shows substantial negative human impacts on reef shark populations, it's clear the central problem exists in the intersection between high human population densities, destructive fishing practices, and poor governance," according to Demian Chapman, Global FinPrint co-lead and associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Institute of Environment at Florida International University. "We found that robust shark populations can exist alongside people when those people have the will, the means, and a plan to take conservation action."

The research started in 2015, using underwater video cameras strapped to 1.5-meter-long poles, which had been baited and placed in reef ecosystems across the Western Atlantic, Western Indian Ocean, Indo-Pacific, and Pacific regions.

The Proof is in The Pictures

More than 15,000 hours of video footage was captured over the study period, which lasted for four years. More than 700 students helped out review the footage but Heithaus’ mother studied the most - 1,721 hours worth.

"These nations are seeing more sharks in their waters because they have demonstrated good governance on this issue," Aaron MacNeil, lead author of the Global FinPrint study and associate professor at Dalhousie University, said. "From restricting certain gear types and setting catch limits, to national-scale bans on catches and trade, we now have a clear picture of what can be done to limit catches of reef sharks throughout the tropics."

More About Sharks

There's Still A Lot You Don't Know About Sharks 12 Videos

From fintastic facts to jawsome discoveries, this is everything you need to know about the apex predators you know and love, sharks.

This is What is Killing Sharks

Despite sharks sitting at the top of their food chain as an apex predator, they are an endangered species as a result of human activities.

Sharks are especially vulnerable to overfishing as they grow so gradually and don’t have many offspring, and demand for shark fins has grown.

“This study is a tour de force,” Nick Dulvy, a conservation biologist at Simon Fraser University, told Science.

“We really need to substantively move toward conservation and recovery in the next decade, or else we’re going to be in real trouble.”

Next Up

Shark Week: The Podcast - Shipwrecked & Surrounded by Sharks

This week, we do things a little differently, as Shark Week’s Luke Tipple invites Adventure Aaron into the podcast studio to talk about his incredible near-death experience on the open water. Adventure Aaron gets into what it takes to circumnavigate the world in an ocean rowboat, what it’s like to stare eye-to-eye with an oceanic white tip that probably wants you for lunch, and everything else that happened to him when his boat was capsized, and he was lost by himself at sea.

Shark Week: The Podcast - How Smart Are Sharks?

The discussion turns this week to sharks’ intelligence, and how it varies among species. Host Luke Tipple is joined by Dr. Tristan Guttridge, a behavioral ecologist and veteran of Shark Week whose research has tackled the social smarts, and even personalities, of different kinds of sharks. He sheds light on why we shouldn’t just think of them as dumb fish with rows of razor-sharp teeth. And at the end, our researcher Sierra Kehoe tells us about shark hypnosis.

Shark Week: The Podcast - Lights! Camera! TEETH! Making Shark Docs

Shark Week’s Luke Tipple is joined by longtime filmmaker and Emmy-award-winner Andy Casagrande. He’s filmed and appeared in dozens of shark documentaries, and might just be the most prolific shark cinematographer in history. He talks with Luke about his career, the contentious term “shark porn,” and the future of the industry. And at the end, our researcher Sierra talks about the unprecedented ways that sharks are currently endangered.

Shark Week: The Podcast - How Shark Fishing Funds Human Trafficking

Luke Tipple is joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of the Outlaw Ocean Ian Urbina, who has dedicated his life to chronicling crime on the high seas. They discuss the state of our world’s oceans, how nearly 20% of your seafood was likely caught illegally, and the surprising link between modern slavery and the killing of sharks.

Shark Week: The Podcast - Do Scientists Need to Kill Sharks?

Host Luke Tipple welcomes two guests to discuss how researchers can kill sharks in the name of science – and whether they need to at all. The first is Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, shark researcher and founder of Atlantic Shark Expeditions, and an expert on data-gathering in the field. He’s followed by explorer Fred Buyle, a world-record-breaking freediver whose innovative methods of shark tagging are explored. Plus, our researcher Sierra tells us about how a 50-year study changed our understanding of tiger sharks – and much of the work wasn’t even done by scientists.

New Walking Shark Species Discovered

A shark that walks, evolutionary conundrums, temperature changes, and tectonic shifts lead scientists to discover four new species of sharks.Watch Island of the Walking Sharks on Wednesday, July 27 at 8:00pm ET/PT on Discovery and stream it on discovery+.

Shark Week: The Podcast - How To Have A Career in Shark Science

Shark Week’s Luke Tipple tackles the question “How can I work with sharks?” alongside two experts in the field – and their answers are not always the obvious ones. Luke is joined first by Kelly Link, Associate Curator of the Georgia Aquarium who talks about what it’s like to be an aquarist, how it differs from field work, and how to get yourself noticed. The second guest is Dr. Neil Hammerschlag who goes into detail on what it takes to become a prominent scientist, and what other paths you can take if a PhD isn’t for you. And at the end, researcher Sierra stops by to tell us about the world’s smallest shark.

Shark Week: The Podcast - Undiscovered Sharks and the State of the Ocean

Luke Tipple invites “The Lost Shark Guy,” Dr. Dave Ebert, who is personally responsible for finding dozens of shark species that were either previously unknown to science or thought to be extinct. He and Luke discuss why shark populations are a direct indicator of how healthy the ocean is, how to find undiscovered sharks, and why diversity in sharks is essential for marine life.

Shark Week: The Podcast - How Many Sharks Are Yet to Be Discovered?

Luke Tipple is joined by Shark Week host and all-around adventurer Forrest Galante. They discuss his upcoming special Alien Sharks: South Africa, Forrest’s remarkable talent for finding creatures once believed to be extinct, and how many shark species may still be unknown. Then, our researcher Sierra stops by to tell us about the world’s most prehistoric shark.

Shark Week: The Podcast - Superstar Kesha Lifts the Gag Order on Saving Sharks

Pop superstar Kesha joins Shark Week’s Luke Tipple on the podcast to discuss her love of sharks, how her music funds her addiction to diving, and how you can find inner peace while under the water. And at the end, our researcher Sierra drops in to tell us that some sharks have teeth in their eyes.

Related To: