10 Most Endangered: Sharks & The Shark Fin Trade


10 Most Endangered: Sharks & The Shark Fin Trade is the fourth instalment in the 10 Most Endangered series and highlights some of the world’s most highly endangered sharks.

Lurking beneath the ocean’s surface are some of the smartest, swiftest, and most sensitive apex predators on the planet. Phobia inducing, terror movie icons, sharks are widely feared across the globe. Some aggressive species have been known to attack humans, and they firmly sit at the top of the food chain.


However, there are many passive and non-threatening species of sharks too. They populate all of the world’s waters with an extensive array of species with agility, hunting prowess, and incredible natural adaptations.

Sharks are a group of fish characterized by their skeletons, gills, and fins. The earliest known species date back to more than 420 million years ago.

The world’s smallest shark, the Dwarf Lantern shark

The Dwarf Lantern shark is the smallest shark in the world, measuring a maximum of 21 centimetres. The Portuguese dogfish species has been found at incredible depths of over 3,660 metres in the darkest parts of the ocean, making it the deepest dwelling shark known to humans.

Unfortunately, many species of shark are at risk of extinction. Over-fishing for liver-oil and prey scarcity are some of the biggest threats to shark populations, and their struggles are further hindered by pollution and climate change.

But by far, the greatest threat to all sharks is the global shark fin trade.

Brutal Trade on a Global Scale

Shark finning is the removal of a shark’s fins. Sharks are captured using fishing long-lines and hauled on to boats where their fins are removed. They are later sold for use in the traditional culinary dish, shark fin soup.

The barbaric act involves only the removal of the fins, usually when the shark is fully conscious. Most shark meat is of little value to fishermen, so once the fins have been severed, the bodies are discarded back into the sea. Nearly dead, defenceless, and unable to swim, they are either eaten alive or float and sink hopelessly.


Up to 100 million sharks are killed in this manner every year, and the trade does not discriminate between species, age, or size. As well as being inhumane, it’s a wasteful and incredibly unsustainable practice.

The business has lead to other horrors in some corners of the world, where small scale fishermen have been known to capture other animals, like street dogs, for use as live bait to attract sharks.

Shark fin soup has long been considered a symbol of luxury and high social class in China, often being served at ceremonies or celebrations. People pay high prices for rare shark fins, and it’s a multi-million dollar industry. The problem is not confined to China, and operations take place on a global scale.

Dried shark fins on sale in a market

Basking shark fins are amongst the most valuable in China and Japan, and street goers will find the markets of Thailand and Taiwan also stocked with a mass of dried fins. While shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, like many countries, they play a major role in the global market by allowing the import, export, and sale of the products.

Saving the Sharks

In August 2021, the UK Government announced an outright ban on the import and export of all shark fin products, including tinned shark fin soup, with world-leading legislation.

UK Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith said, “Shark finning is indescribably cruel and causes thousands of shark to die terrible deaths. It is also unforgivably wasteful. The practice is rightly banned in UK waters, but the trade continues. That is why we are now banning the import both of detached shark fins and shark fin products. Our action will not only help boost shark numbers, it will send a clear message that we do not support an industry that is forcing many species to the brink of extinction.

More efforts like these are thought to be critical in reducing the trade and saving endangered shark populations.

There are many global conservation initiatives that support different sharks and their wider habitats. Shark specific efforts are focused on monitoring and tagging, educating fishing communities, raising public awareness, and lobbying for changes in laws. Captive breeding has even helped save some rare species.

In Australia, the most famous of all sharks, the Great White, has made an incredible recovery due to conservation efforts. Their population recovery is believed to be contributing to an increase in Great White encounters in the country’s waters, and some groups are lobbying for changes in legislation that would, once again, allow limited hunting of the species as part of population control.

There’s around 140 species of shark listed on the ICUN Red List of endangered and vulnerable animals at risk of extinction. To learn more about the Great White and some other impressive species read on for 10 Most Endangered: Sharks


1. Basking Shark

Conservation Status: Vulnerable

This large, slow-moving fish is a filter feeder that can grow up to 12 meters (40 feet) in length and is the second-largest fish in the world. It can sometimes be found in the waters of the UK and is distributed across the globe.


2. Zebra Shark

Conservation Status: Endangered

The Zebra sharks grows to 2.5 meters (8.2 feet), and has beautiful patterns of black dots on its pale skin. They are nocturnal and are found throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific waters.


3. Great Hammerhead Shark

Conservation Status: Endangered

The Great Hammerhead is the largest of the hammerhead species. It grows to a maximum length of 6 meters (20 feet) and dwells in coastal areas and the continental shelf of tropical and warm temperate waters worldwide.


4. Great White Shark

Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Found in cool, coastal waters around the world, Great Whites are the largest apex predatory fish on Earth. They grow up to 6 metres (20 feet) and weigh 2.5 tons or more. Most Great White attacks on humans are cases of mistaken identity.


5. Shortfin Mako Shark

Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Shortfin Mako sharks are known to be highly migratory, with individuals travelling far and wide every year. They grow to 3.5 metres (12 feet) in length and have a large geographical range from tropical to temperate latitudes in all oceans.


6. Sicklefin Lemon Shark

Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Sicklefin Lemon sharks live on the ocean floor at depths up to 30 metres. They grow up to 3.8 metres (12.5 feet). The shark is already extinct in some of its native habitats like India and Thailand and is now only found in the Tropical Indo-west and central Pacific Oceans.  


7. Bull Shark

Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Bull sharks can live in both saltwater and shallow freshwater systems, including estuaries and rivers. They have been known to swim over 1000 kilometres up the Mississippi River. Along with the tiger shark and the great white shark, bull sharks are one of the three species most likely to attack humans.


8. Sand Tiger Shark

Conservation Status: Critically endangered

The Sand Tiger shark dwells in the waters of Japan, Australia, South Africa, and the east coasts of North and South America. It once inhabited the Mediterranean, but was last seen there in 2003. The shark reaches around 3.2 metres (10.5 feet) in length.


9. Dagger Nose Shark

Conservation Status: Critically endangered

The Dagger Nose shark inhabits the shallow tropical waters off north-eastern South America, from Trinidad to northern Brazil. It favours muddy habitats such as mangroves, estuaries and river mouths. They have a length of around 1.5 metres (5 feet).


10. Whale Shark

Conservation Status: Endangered

Whale sharks can be found in all tropical and warm seas around the world. They are the largest fish in the world, and the longest confirmed was 18.8 metres (60 feet). Their estimated global population is around 10,000, but due to their large territories it’s not certain.

Ever since I saw Jaws as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by sharks. The thought of these dangerous predators lurking beneath the ocean surface is both terrifying and captivating. But I’ve also seen the more gentle species that live on reefs, and can appreciate that not all species are a threat.

Sharks in all forms are an inherent part of the ocean’s delicately balanced eco-systems and food chains. It’s a shame that many of them face the risk of extinction from human activities that could be managed better. The shark fin trade appears to be one of our most brutal, and I’m not aware of any other animals that are treated so inhumanely.

As with all conservation issues that of sharks is complex, but these epic fish deserve some recognition for their iconic reputation and unique characteristics, which is why I chose them for the this 10 Most Endangered.

Catch up on the last article 10 Most Endangered: Reptiles here

If you’d like to help spread the word, save the sharks and stop shark finning please share this post below!

Article Sources:






*we never save, share or use your email data

All text ©J. Thomson, 2022


Back to top: