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Securing a future for sharks by understanding their present and past genetic diversity

Sharks have inhabited our oceans since well before the dinosaurs. Despite this incredible example of evolutionary success, today we find many of the world’s shark species in peril, with around 100 million sharks killed annually (many just for their fins) and with at least a third of the 465 species of sharks now vulnerable to extinction. Losing these top predators will have important consequences for ocean ecosystems.

A major driver of global shark exploitation has been the fin trade, with additional pressure coming from the global trade in shark meat, which has increased steadily since 2000. The decline of large sharks in response to even moderate fishing pressure is linked to their low reproductive rates. High exploitation rates, accelerating habitat loss and changing oceanographic conditions (including acidification related to climate change) have led to concerns about the trajectories of shark populations in general, and of the large sharks in particular, given their critically important role as top predators.

Our genetics research provides important actionable information for the management of threatened species of large-bodied sharks, and identifies those genetically distinct shark populations of highest vulnerability to help prioritize protection efforts.