February 17, 2004

Are white tip sharks about to go extinct in the Gulf of Mexico?

A new study by Julie Baum and Ram Myers suggests that white tip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico are now less than one percent of their abundance fifty years ago and on the brink of extinction.

Where have all the fishes gone? This is a question that seems to consume Dr. Ransom Myers. He's the Canadian marine biologist who was the lead author on last year's huge impact study on the cover of Nature that said, "There are less than 10% of the large fish remaining in the sea."
Now one of his graduate students, Julie Baum, has co-authored a paper with him titled, "Shifting Baselines and the decline of white tip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico." They conclude the population levels have fallen drastically to less than 1% of their original size. They point out it was possibly the most abundant shark species in the world 50 years ago, but harvesting for shark fin soup and entanglement in long line fishing has wiped them out.

And of course government scientists were quoted as saying, "don't trust the data." Seems to me the major source of information (bycatch statistics from the 50's and 90's) might be a little soft as an indicator, but I'm guessing that if there's an inaccuracy, it's probably that the stocks have only been reduced to 2% instead of 1%. Big deal. Wiped out is wiped out. They also mention anecdotal observations of how abundant the sharks were in the 50's, swarming around ships at sea, and how sparse they are today. How can you really argue with these sorts of findings?

Posted by Randy Olson at February 17, 2004 10:24 AM

In Palau they just burned up 1000 pounds of confiscated shark fins, check it out:


Posted by: Navigator at February 11, 2004 02:43 PM

What are your sources.. are they accurate?

Posted by: jeff at February 27, 2004 09:04 AM

Accuracy vs. Precision?

Not sure which story your question refers to -- the capture of shark fins in Palau, or the decline of white tip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico. Either way, there might be questions about precision, but no doubt about accuracy -- meaning that white tip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico today might actually be 2% of original stocks rather than 1%, but does that sort of difference in precision matter? Same for capture of shark fins. Whether the report from Palau is precise, there is no shortage of reports from Hawaii and Mexico and elsewhere around the Pacfic of fishing boats with huge amounts of shark fins.

Lots of problems with precision in these sorts of reports, but the accuracy is hard to argue.

Posted by: admin at March 1, 2004 04:25 AM