Humans Kill 100 Million Sharks Every Year, But That's About to Change

Updated | Sharks can now swim freely without worrying about being captured once they cross into new, unfamiliar territory.

New Scientist reports that 126 countries have signed a pact to support conservation efforts for animals that frequently cross borders to other environments, such as sharks. The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, held in the Philippines in late October, drew governments from around the world. The goal was to ensure more protections for nomadic animals that change locales, some of which are in danger of extinction, according to a release.

Related: What Country Has the Most Fatal Shark Attacks? 

There was a heavy emphasis on saving sharks, and for good reason. In a 2013 study, scientists estimated that humans are responsible for roughly 100 million shark deaths per year.

GettyImages-102802570 A great white shark, seen here in 2010, is the type we most commonly think of, but there are more than 400 types of sharks. Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

The whale shark was added to Appendix I, which means the governments that signed the pact agree to protect the species from being captured or fished. Two other species, dusky and blue sharks, landed on Appendix II, which asks the countries to collaborate on conservation efforts. The angel shark is listed on both. The term angel shark actually covers 23 species of the fish, all of which can be spotted by the eyes on top of their (typically flat) heads.

They likely appear on both lists because their populations have shrunk in recent years. In fact, they are the second-most threatened group of sharks and fish, according to a Scientific American story from 2015. The fish have dwindled in numbers, thanks to commercial fisherman.

Whale sharks, which have the honor of being the world’s largest fish, have also seen a decline in numbers. New Scientist reports that this protection is especially important, as the animals frequently swim to Madagascar, Mozambique, Peru and Tanzania. These countries are known for having particularly high levels of shark fishing. Last year, Al Jazeera reported that many fish farmers had shuttered their businesses because overfishing had ruined the industry.

GettyImages-814602222 A shark fisherman in Florida releases those that are vulnerable or in danger of extinction. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Perhaps the most mobile are blue sharks, which make multiple trips through the ocean basins throughout their lives, according to Oceana.org, a nonprofit aiming to protect the world’s waters. Matt Collis of the International Fund for Animal Welfare told New Scientist that ensuring the species is protected is significant.

“They’re the most highly fished sharks in the world, with 20 million caught around the world each year, but they’re also the most migratory, so they’re vulnerable to fisheries everywhere,” he said. “This puts pressure on countries to commit to international protection.”

GettyImages-74854635 A whale shark swimming in the Philippines. The species is the world's largest fish and can weigh up to 60 tons. SCOTT TUASON/AFP/Getty Images

While these may seem like feel-good efforts, saving the sharks is important for us too. Their tissue could contain antibacterial elements, which scientists study to develop new treatments that could potentially ward off superbugs.

Correction: The original headline incorrectly said 100,000 sharks are killed a year. The correct number is 100 million.

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