up to 12m
up to 12,000 kg
can reach 30-40 mph
can leap up to 9m above the surface
Fast, efficient predators under threat
The 3 largest species of pelagic shark – the whale shark, the basking shark and the megamouth shark – are all filter feeders and eat mainly plankton.
Most pelagic sharks are viviparous - the eggs are fertilized inside the female's body, and live 'pups' are hatched. Reproduction rates are very low, with as few as 2-3 pups born every 13 months or so in some species. Pelagic sharks are slow to reach maturity, often taking as long as 10 years or more.
Threatened Pelagic shark species:
- Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
- Blue shark (Prionace glauca)
- Longfin mako (Isurus paucus)
- Shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus)
- Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus)
- Whale shark (Rhincodon typus)
- Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)
- Megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios)
- Porbeagle (Lamna nasus)
- Thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus)
What are the main threats to pelagic sharks?
Because sharks do not reproduce as fast as other fish, their numbers can easily be reduced by overfishing. Pelagic sharks are caught in longline pelagic fisheries for tuna and swordfish.
There is insufficient data on many of the species of pelagic sharks caught as bycatch, as they are often discarded by fisheries.
High demand for shark fin soup
Pelagic shark populations are also threatened by demand for shark fin soup, where the fin is removed and the remainder of the body again discarded.
It is estimated that over 100 million sharks are killed annually, with around 10 million of those being blue sharks killed for their fins only.
Species such as the great white shark, which has been unfairly demonised, is often caught by sport fishers and its teeth and jaws are sold as trophies or curios.
Some pelagic sharks species are losing important feeing and breeding habitats to development, pollution and overfishing.
What is WWF doing?
WWF promotes smart fishing to reduce bycatch and the unnecessary annual loss of millions of fish. It argues for fishing bans in areas where stocks have been seriously depleted, or in areas which are nursing grounds for significant species. It also holds an annual Smart Gear Competition designed to encourage the introduction of efficient and innovative fishing gear.
In many areas, the economic value of shark meat and products is less than could be earned from a living shark ecotourism enterprise. WWF works with local communities to develop ecotourism projects centred around pelagic sharks including whale sharks.
At the 2010 meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), WWF lobbied hard to have 6 shark species added to CITES Appendix II. The porbeagle (a pelagic shark) was successfully added to the list, unfortunatley the other 5 were not listed. Read more.
Some WWF projects that support this work:
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How you can help
- Buy seafood that has been sustainably caught. You can tell because it will have a certification label on the packaging such as the Marine Stewardship Council certification.
- Adopt a great white shark from the WWF-US Online Gift Center.
- Spread the word! Click on the button to share this information with others via email or your favourite social networking service.