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
- Blue shark
- Longfin mako
- Shortfin mako
- Basking shark
- Whale shark
- Tiger shark
- Megamouth shark
- Thresher shark
up to 12m
up to 12,000 kg
can reach 30-40 mph
can leap up to 9m above the surface
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.
What is WWF doing?
In 2010 WWF lobbied hard to have 6 shark species added to CITES Appendix II. The Porbeagle (a pelagic shark) was initially successfully added to the list, a decision that was overturned on the last day of the meeting, unfortunatley the other 5 were not listed either. Read more.
At the next 2013 meeting of CITES, many organisations and countries responded to the need to better protect sharks and rays, and five species of shark (Porbeagle, Oceanic whitetip and three species of hammerhead sharks), and Manta rays were finally listed on CITES Appediix II. Read more.
To maximise the potential benefits of the CITES listings, WWF and TRAFFIC joined forces in 2014 to launch a new Shark and Ray Initiative, Restoring the Balance.
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.