Sharks

 / ©: Wildlife Pictures/Jêrome Mallefet / WWF-Canon
Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
© Wildlife Pictures/Jêrome Mallefet / WWF-Canon
There are over 400 species of sharks, and New Zealand is home to 112 of them.
They can be found in all the world's oceans and are typically the oceans apex predators. This means they are an important indicator of the health of our seas. 

However, despite their position at the top of the food chain, shark populations continue to decline as a result of unsustainable fishing practices and demand from the shark fin trade.

Shark fin ban in NZ!

A ban on shark finning in NZ waters has come into force on October 1!
Thank you to the thousands of New Zealanders who helped make this happen. It's a step in the right direction. Read more here.

Restoring the Balance

WWF is working to save sharks all over the world. Learn more about what WWF is doing internationally for sharks!
 / ©: Erkki Siirilä / WWF-Canon
Rhincodon typus Whale shark With mouth open, swallowing zooplancton La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
© Erkki Siirilä / WWF-Canon

The species

Sharks vary greatly in size and habit. Whale sharks are the largest of all fish and can grow over 14m long and weigh up to 15,000kg. The smallest shark is thought to be the dwarf lanternshark, which is just 17cm long.
Sharks are efficient predators. They have a highly developed sense of smell, hearing and sight. They can scent their prey in the water from a great distance. Their sensitive eyes can see clearly even in the dim light of the ocean depths.

Sharks are carnivorous and eat fish, including other sharks. Large species may eat seals, turtles and penguins. Some sharks, like the whale shark  and the basking shark feed on plankton.

Most fish lay eggs in the water which are then fertilised by the male. But shark eggs are fertilized inside the female's body. In most species, the eggs hatch inside the female and the babies (called pups) are born alive. Some kinds of sharks, like the catshark do lay eggs, ejecting them in flattened cases known as Mermaid's Purses.

A new born shark is able to swim as soon as it is born and is immediately left to fend for itself by the mother.

Did you know?

Sharks have up to 5 rows of teeth which are replaced as they wear out. A shark can lose up to 30,000 teeth during its lifetime.

The fastest shark is the mako shark which has been known to reach 32kph or even faster. It can also leap 6m above the surface of the water.

Most oceanic sharks must keep swimming forwards to force seawater through their open mouths and over their gills to breathe - otherwise they would suffocate.

What are their main threats?

Internationally, over 100 million sharks are killed every year. This number is largely driven by the shark fin trade, which is worth upwards of US$1.2 billion.
The growing trade in shark fins - often used to make an expensive Asian soup - has become a serious threat to many shark species. Sharks are caught, the fins are cut off and the rest of the shark is thrown back into the sea.

Because sharks breed much more slowly than fish, it means that they are vulnerable to overfishing which reduces their numbers at an unsustainable rate.

Sharks also die in fishing nets set for other fish (bycatch) and shark meat is popular in many parts of the world. All this means that some species of sharks are now endangered and some are critically endangered. 

The increase of development, pollution and over-fishing have also led to the loss of important marine habitats that support shark populations. 
 / ©: Hélène Petit / WWF-Canon
Hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna sp.) caught by fishermen on pirogues and Tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) at fishing port in Abidjan. Ivory Coast August 1995
© Hélène Petit / WWF-Canon
 / ©: Cat Holloway / WWF-Canon
Blacktip reef shark, Carcharhinus melanopterus. The blacktip reef shark mostly eats reef fish. It hunts in small groups during the day. It commonly preys upon sturgeon fishes and mullet. The blacktip reef shark is generally a solitary eater, but has been observed hunting in small groups. Phoenix Islands, Kiribati
© Cat Holloway / WWF-Canon

What about in New Zealand?

Despite over 1/3 of the world having banning shark finning, it was completely legal to kill a shark only for its fins and dump the body at sea in New Zealand until recently.
On average, 24,000 tonnes of shark – the equivalent weight of 300,000 people - were being caught every year in New Zealand waters before 2014.
 / ©: naturepl.com / Cheryl-Samantha Owen / WWF-Canon
Blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) swimming in shallow crystal clear water, Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles, Indian Ocean.
© naturepl.com / Cheryl-Samantha Owen / WWF-Canon

What WWF is doing

WWF-New Zealand are members of the NZ Shark Alliance, calling for a ban on shark finning through "fins naturally attached" in New Zealand waters.
WWF promotes smart fishing to reduce bycatch and the unnecessary annual loss of millions of fish and other marine species, including sharks. We argue for fishing bans in areas where stocks have been seriously depleted, or in areas which are nursing grounds for significant species.
 
In many areas, the economic value of shark meat and products is less than could be earned from a living shark ecotourism enterprise. WWF works with local communities to develop ecotourism projects centred around sharks.

Read more about our work to protect sharks and limit the effects of unsustainable fishing here.

Read our submission on the NZ National Plan of Action for sharks - 8 December 2013

Download the NZ Shark Alliance factsheet

 / ©: NZ Shark Alliance
NZ Shark Alliance
© NZ Shark Alliance

How you can help

  • Sign the pledge! Give your support to ban shark finning in New Zealand waters.
  • Don't support overfishing! Only buy sustainable fish and seafood, always look for MSC certification.