Neil Hammerschlag, a research assistant professor at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science who studies sharks, said many people are unaware that sharks are under such pressure.
“They are truly the celebrities of the ocean,” Hammerschlag wrote in an e-mail. “Despite their legendary status, most people are unaware that sharks are literally being fished to extinction.”
Nicholas K. Dulvy, who co-authored the study and serves as the Canadian Research Chair in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, said the group of species he and his colleagues analyzed is not representative of the ocean as a whole. It is “a biased sample, but it’s biased in interesting ways,” he said. Because the movie focuses on coral reefs and areas in the Indo-Pacific, he said, it captures key regions of “the world’s biodiversity.”
In some cases, these populations are beginning to rebound. Nesting populations of marine turtles in Costa Rica increased by more than fivefold between 1971 and 2003, for example, after authorities began protecting nesting females there. And the Convention on Migratory Species’ 116 member parties will ban fishing for giant manta rays and impose measures to safeguard their habitat after the group voted to protect the species.
Dulvy, who also chairs the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, said the paper aims to highlight the “conservation bottleneck” many species face even after researchers have documented their steep population declines. Fewer than 10 percent of the threatened shark and ray species surveyed by the study are protected under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
CITES Director-General John E. Scanlon said in a recent interview that his group is working to build political support to protect additional marine species, as well as to raise funds from member nations to support legal enforcement of wildlife trade bans. While many focus on the prospect of how climate change may drive some species out of existence, he said, “All the time we’re planning, we’re losing biodiversity through illegal trade and unsustainable trade of species. Why don’t we deal with the here and now?”
For the four authors of the Nemo paper, focusing on the here and now meant watching the movie four or five times. But Dulvy said he came away with a better impression of the film than when he first saw it eight years ago, especially after watching Bruce the Shark struggle with his pledge to stop eating fish.
“They tried to portray sharks in a way more positive way than is usually done. But they showed them to be fallible, which makes them closer to reality,” he said. “I really enjoyed it.”