Sharks and rays, collectively known as elasmobranchs, along with chimaeras are all classified as chondrichthyans, a group of fishes distinguished from bony fishes and jawless fishes by their cartilaginous skeleton and true jaws, respectively. Chondrichthyans have been on earth for over 400 million years, roughly double the time than dinosaurs which existed between ca. 230 to 65 million years ago, and 1330 times longer than humans which evolved probably not longer than 300,000 years ago. Currently over 1250 species of these ancient fishes are identified around the world, mostly in marine habitats, living from intertidal zone (f.e. epaulette shark, Hemiscyllium ocellatum) to deepest parts of the oceans, but also in brackish and fresh waters. Nonetheless, we still don’t know many things about these animals as statistics show about 25 new species of these amazing fishes are discovered and described annually.
Due to their reproductive strategies producing few number of offspring, sharks and rays are too vulnerable to overexploitation. Nonetheless, these fishes are extensively caught as target catch and bycatch all around the world. It is thought that globally far more than 70 million sharks are killed per year, mostly because of their fins, which exported to southeast Asia are used in expensive shark fin soup dishes.
Waters of NW Indian Ocean, including the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, host more than 150 species of sharks, rays and chimaeras, equal to about 15% of all chondrichthyan species. Half of all these species that live in the study area are classified as threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable) by the IUCN Red List. Further, one fifth of these species are also classified as Data Deficient (DD). Some of these DD species might be threatened, but assessing their conservation status is not possible due to insufficient information (ref).
While the region is important in the context of chondrichthyan biodiversity, but unfortunately, it also is targeted by some of the world’s top chondrichthyan fishing and trading nations. One of these nations is Iran, a country that has been classified among the 26 top chondrichthyan-fishing nations that together are responsible for more than 80% of the total chondrichthyan catches worldwide. Nonetheless, almost no information is available about conservation status of these amazing fishes along Iranian coastal waters, and also no conservation measures have been taken to protect their stocks in the area.
We at QECI currently put sharks and rays at the top of our priorities, and thanks to our sponsors, most of our efforts are now focused on these fascinating fishes in the frame of a multidisciplinary project.
Our conservation works for sharks and rays in the Persian Gulf:
- Shark and ray Conservation in Iran (Read more)