Sharks have existed for roughly 450 million years-even before the dinosaurs. But, the very adaptations that have allowed sharks to survive for so many millions of years may now be working against them in the face of a relatively new threat: fishing. Under modern fishing pressure, are certain sharks "evolved for extinction?"
Earlier this summer, four researchers published a paper in BioScience investigating this very question using hammerhead sharks as a case study. Hammerheads are an identifiable and intriguing family of sharks; these swift predators have a suite of adaptations designed to help them survive, and yet their numbers are declining dramatically due to overfishing. To protect hammerheads from overexploitation and extinction, the study urges fishery managers to consider these specialized adaptions in management and conservation plans.
Thinking about hammerhead shark conservation in light of this family's evolutionary history is especially relevant given the recent news from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which in June announced that four populations of scalloped hammerheads would receive various degrees of protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This makes scalloped hammerheads the first sharks to be granted protection under one of the world's strongest laws protecting imperiled plants and animals, but NMFS stopped short of extending these protections to the populations living in U.S. waters.