The Arabian Gulf marine ecosystem took a devastating hit this week after a pregnant great hammerhead shark was landed and forty-five pups gutted out of it in a Dubai fish market. Despite a shark fishing ban from January to April, endangered shark species are being put at risk by fishers who continue to hunt them down in the United Arab Emirates. The horrific find was recorded by shark researchers monitoring the decline of the species in the region and Thomas Vignaud, working with the Shark Quest project, along with Julia Spaet discovered the forty-five dead pups after an inspection of the female hammerhead.
Shark fishing has skyrocketed in the UAE in recent years and according to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FOA), the gulf state is one of the main Middle East exporters of shark fins to Hong Kong.
Speaking to Gulf News, Jonathon Ali Khan who is an expedition leader for sharks in the region and director of Shark Quest Arabia explained that the importance of the region for the survival of certain shark species needed to be better highlighted so that birthing sharks are protected. “When a slow-reproducing shark is found at the market with 45 pups something needs to be done for the welfare of the species,” he added.
Great hammerhead sharks are an endangered species and the forty-five pups that were found were almost ready to be born. “If even half of these shark pups had survived, it might have made a significant contribution to the survival of this species at least in this region,” Khan told the Gulf News.
It is believed that the shark may have been caught in the waters of Oman and brought to the UAE for sale to make a better profit although it is impossible to tell for sure. In Oman, shark fining at sea is banned and in the UAE shark fining and shark hunting between January to April was banned in 2008. Even so FOA figures show that from 1998 to 2000, around 400-500 tonnes of shark fins were exported from the UAE annually. Latest findings also reveal the growing popularity of shark-hunting as they indicate that the shark catch in the UAE shot up in 2003 to 3,060 tonnes a year.
These statistics are particularly worrying as sharks are extremely sensitive to fishing at they mature quite late and produce few offspring. As such, the death of forty-five great hammerhead pups is a serious blow to their future existence in the Arabia Gulf.
Photo courtesy of Julia Spaet- KAUST PhD student researching shark populations in the Red Sea.
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