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Data Points: 8 Incredible Stats From the Global FinPrint Study

Oceans
Jul 22 2020
Here's what these numbers mean and how scientists are using them to help save sharks.
A shark swims by a Global FinPrint baited remote underwater video station in Takaroa, French Polynesia. (Photo courtesy Global FinPrint)

Nearly five years ago, the team behind the Global FinPrint project set out to accomplish an unprecedented task — to complete the largest reef shark survey of its kind. 

Their hard work has resulted in the first-ever benchmark for the status of reef sharks around the world. 

The following are some of the most important data points scientists learned from the study; highlighting the extent of the research, the crisis facing our oceans’ reef sharks, and the ways we can protect the future of these amazing species. 

The Global FinPrint team setting BRUVs in Belize. (Photo courtesy Dr. Katie Flowers)

58 Countries and Territories Surveyed

From Brazil to Taiwan, Global FinPrint researchers criss-crossed the globe to get the best estimate on the number of reef sharks around the world. What they found was stark.  

On Nearly 20% of Reefs Surveyed, Sharks Are Functionally Extinct

After surveying nearly 400 reefs and observing no sharks on almost 20% of the sites they visited, Global FinPrint scientists concluded that sharks are functionally extinct on many of the world’s reefs. 

In fact, researchers counted only three sharks in more than 800 hours of footage in six nations: the Dominican Republic, the French West Indies, Kenya, Vietnam, the Windward Dutch Antilles, and Qatar.
A silky shark passes assesses the area. (Photo courtesy Ryan Murray)
A Global FinPrint researcher prepares a baited remote underwater video station (BRUVs).

15,165 Hours of Underwater Video

In total, the Global FinPrint project was able to capture 15,165 hours, or nearly two years, of footage using baited remote underwater video stations (BRUVS). These stationary, seafloor camera stations used bait to attract sharks, and recorded the species as they swam by. This system has not only given researchers the ability to provide a benchmark status on the world’s reef sharks, but also has led to a visit from “Kermit” the great white and unexpected discoveries about other species.

730 People Volunteered

Whether it was a grandma living in central Ohio or teens lending an eye to the research at their nearby aquarium, Global FinPrint’s landmark survey of reef sharks relied on an army of volunteers of all ages and experience to finish the report. Without these 730 people, the scientists working on this study wouldn’t have been able to make these breakthrough discoveries.
A teen at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium analysis Global FinPrint footage with Global FinPrint’s Dr. Demian Chapman. (Photo Courtesy Shedd Aquarium)
Global FinPrint scientist Samantha Sherman along with rangers from the Nguna/Pele Marine Protected Area Network survey the waters around Vanuatu. (Photo Courtesy Samantha Sherman)

A Collaboration of 121 Scientists

As notable as those numbers are, equally as impressive was the type of team work needed to get a clear picture of the status of reef sharks. Not only did the Global FinPrint team include 121 scientists across the globe speaking multiple languages, but they also trained and equipped researchers in 30 nations including Cuba, Papua New Guinea, and Madagascar with the latest standards, procedures, and technology. This will give these countries the needed infrastructure to track their own shark and ray populations going forward. 

34 of the Nations Surveyed Had Half as Many Sharks as Expected

Before Global FinPrint began their survey, they expected to see sharks on every coral reef. When they analyzed their findings and created a model to measure each nation’s relative shark abundance, scientists found that 34 out of the 58 countries and territories they surveyed had less than half as many sharks as they should. Based on their modeling, they should’ve seen 20,000 or so sharks throughout their nearly five year study. But they only saw 12,000 sharks. 

Nine Reservoirs of Hope

Among the most optimistic and important findings that Global FinPrint’s study revealed were the number of reservoirs of hope they found. The nine places where reef sharks are thriving give countries a playbook for what it takes to support a healthy population. These areas, which include the Bahamas, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and more are, for the most part, well-governed and have strong shark management such as gear restrictions or shark sanctuaries. Researchers also point to these places as potential seeds for recovery. Since reef sharks aren’t confined to borders, scientists hope these areas — when properly protected — could help restore not only the sharks in these nations or territories, but other regions with degraded reef shark populations.  

3 Ways to Reverse the Decline Give Us Hope

As grim as the report is, scientists identified three clear paths all nations need to take to protect reef sharks. From restricting certain gear types and setting catch limits to national-scale bans on catches and trade, the data that Global FinPrint’s work uncovered can guide meaningful and long-term conservation plans for the species.
Caribbean reef shark checks out a BRUVS in the Bahamas. (Photo courtesy Andy Mann)
 

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