15 Critically Endangered Marine Animals in 2021
There is a 7% increase in the total number of threatened species this year, according to the latest update in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species. There is growing pressure on marine species, therefore the continuous rise in the critically endangered marine animals.
The good news is four out of seven commercially fished tuna species are recovering, leaving them out of the endangered category. So, which marine animals are sadly still floating around on the list?
Here are the top 15 critically endangered marine animals in 2021:
- Smalltooth Stingray
- Smoothback Guitarfish
- Shorttail Whipray
- Ganges Shark
- Flapper Skate
- Sarawak Pygmy Swell Shark
- Lusitanian Cownose Ray
- Borneo Shark
- Common Blue Skate
- Asian Giant Softshell Turtle
- Thorny Whipray
- Whitefin Topeshark
- Speckled Smoothhound
- Sand Tiger Shark
- Starrynose Cowtail Ray
1. Smalltooth Stingray
The smalltooth stingray is a large stingray with discrete prickles without tubercles common in the Eastern Central Atlantic Ocean. For the last 45 years, researchers have suspected its population of having decreased by more than 80% due to the excessive exploitation levels, hence being one of the Critically Endangered species in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Smalltooth stingrays are often a bycatch of commercial fishing in the region. They are famous delicacies, which locals enjoy as dried, salted, or smoked. The lack of conservation measures and awareness adds more to the factors, alongside overfishing, to the future extinction of smalltooth stingrays.
2. Smoothback Guitarfish
Many experts consider guitarfish the next rays considering the current declining rate of their population, especially smoothback, Philippine, Jimbara, and Bengal guitarfish. These guitar-shaped fish are similar to rays and skates.
Due to the guitarfish’s cartilaginous biology, locals from eastern and southeastern Asia hunt them to make up for the increasing demand for a local delicacy—sharks fin. If you compare their overexploitation and the number of pups they can produce in a year (2-7 pups in a litter), you will stop wondering why many organizations have listed guitarfish among the critically endangered marine species.
3. Shorttail Whipray
The Shorttail Whipray is a medium-sized ray usually threading the northern Indian Ocean, Pakistan, India, northern Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. They typically prefer to inshore coastal waters, making them vulnerable to threats, such as pollution, clearing, and destructive fishing practices.
Not to mention, their meat has been subjected to human consumption while their skins turn to leather for bags and other accessories. This long overfishing history indicates 78–99% declines over the past three generation lengths (45 years) of the Shorttail Whipray.
4. Ganges Shark
Ganges sharks are among the rarest shark species of today. They look similar to bull sharks and often live in freshwater environments like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, and India.
Currently, they have been highly elusive in appearance, despite the extensive global surveying of sharks and rays. With researchers only recording 240 mature individuals, there is no doubt that Ganges sharks are nearing extinction.
Their habitat choice makes them extra vulnerable to overfishing and ecological damages that humans cause, such as untreated discharge from industrial and chemical plants, increasing use and pollution of rivers, and the construction of dams and barrages, which alter the flow and affect river productivity.
5. Flapper Skate
The Flapper Skate is the largest skate species, with a total length of at least 254cm. It used to have an abundant population around northwestern Europe, Scandinavia, the Celtic Sea, and possibly extending as far north as Iceland and Scottish waters.
However, the species experienced a significant decline in the early 20th century around the British Isles and Ireland, especially when they became famous for their meat. Given their life history and demography, the flapper skate has little capacity to adapt to the exploitation of fisheries, hence the population reduction of more than 80% in the last 104 years.
6. Sarawak Pygmy Swell Shark
Residing in East and Southeast Asian waters, from Taiwan to Borneo, Sarawak Pygmy Swell Shark is a small shark that locals often use to produce fish sauce and as a bycatch for fish meals.
Due to the overexploitation in the northern region of the South China Sea, the species have continuously been sensitive to fishing pressures. Plus, the future development, like land reclamation activities, in the areas along the ‘nine-dash line’ area of China and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea further increases the degradation of the marine ecosystem in the region, therefore increasing the dangers in the remaining Sarawak Pygmy Swell Sharks.
7. Lusitanian Cownose Ray
The warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the western coast of Africa are home to a rare eagle ray species lusitanian cownose ray. They often enjoy swimming in groups or schools along shallow waters like other ray species. Hence people can quickly fish a large number of the species in a single haul.
The lusitanian cownose ray’s meat is a popular commodity, whether frozen, fresh, or smoked. Their incapability to adapt to fishing pressures and the demand for delicacy has premeditated their population decline.
8. Borneo Shark
The Borneo Shark is a small requiem shark known from Kalimantan, Indonesia, and Sarawak, Malaysia. It used to be popular and more widespread in the 1800s but is now limited to northwestern Borneo.
Experts previously assumed the Borneo Shark to be extinct when its last specimen was found in 1937. It was not until 2004 when the shark reemerged in Malaysia. Like other small sharks, this shark resides in shallow inshore coastal waters.
The low reports of catches from fishers strongly show a significant decline in the species population due to overfishing. Sadly, the fishing practices are not well-monitored, and the methods are unsustainable, leading to the degradation of the sharks’ habitats.
9. Common Blue Skate
Experts used to identify the Common Blue Skate to the Flapper Skate in terms of taxonomy during the 1920s and only connoted them as a separate species in 2010. This medium-sized skate once thrived in the Northeast Atlantic. Due to its size, it is highly susceptible to fishing pressures. Hence, when there was an imminent danger to the species, law enforcement prohibited Common Blue Skate Landings, especially in the European Union or the United Kingdom.
10. Asian Giant Softshell Turtle
The Asian Giant Softshell Turtle, or the Cantor’s giant, sports an adorable frog-like face. Its numbers are continuously declining and have locally disappeared due to exploitation and habitat destruction in the regions it used to thrive.
The Asian Giant Softshell Turtle is often threading the waters of southern and eastern India, Bangladesh, and Southeast Asia. There have been few accounts of these humble giants at some local ranges, like India, the Philippines, Singapore, and Brunei, where experts believe they are nearly extinct. But the population has significantly reduced in half.
Since they love lowland freshwater environments, like rivers, lakes, mangrove channels and nests on riverbanks and seashores, their habitat degradation and loss are the results of lower river basins, human settlement, cities, harbors, ports, and industrial developments, and nesting sites impacted by sand removal, and tourism. Thankfully, there are already laws in place preventing poaching and illegal trade.
11. Thorny Whipray
The Thorny Whipray is a medium-sized ray in the Eastern Central Atlantic, usually found from Guinea-Bissau to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It loves to dwell in shallow coastal waters and freshwater habitats, like the rivers in Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo.
There are too many unmanaged fisheries in the areas where the Thorny Whipray resides, hence the added fishing pressures in the species. When caught, usually as bycatch, locals enjoy and trade their meat fresh, salted, dried, or smoked.
Not to mention, the decline in the ray’s population, along with droughts in rivers, is also because of increasing human coastal population and commercialized fishing technologies with targeted artisanal shark fishing accounting for the significant degradation of the Thorny Whipray.
12. Whitefin Topeshark
The Whitefin Topeshark is a small coastal shark native only to Philippines shores, where sadly, has a lot of illegal over-exploitation and overfishing of the species. There is currently no stone-engraved law to protect them from fishing pressures, especially when commercial fishing gears add them to the bycatch, which will later be traded internationally or consumed locally for their fins and meat.
13. Speckled Smoothhound
The Speckled Smoothhound or tollo is a small hound shark from the Southeast Pacific from Mancora, Peru, south to the austral tip of Chile, and in the Galápagos and Juan Fernandez Islands.
Like other sharks, fishing pressures and habitat disruptions have heavily exploited the species throughout its geographic range. Its exposure to poorly managed fisheries leads to a steep decline in its population. Currently, a Peruvian legal regulation only allows the catch of 60 cm long Speckled, Humpback, and Spotted Smoothhounds.
14. Sand Tiger Shark
The Sand Tiger Shark is a giant shark that you can encounter circumglobal, especially in shallow waters. With litter sizes of just two pups, low biological productivity dramatically affects how well it adapts to increasing fishing pressures. Its preference for inshore coastal waters means that these sharks are highly vulnerable to habitat changes due to pollution, aquaculture, and climate change.
15. Starrynose Cowtail Ray
The Starrynose Cowtail Ray is a small ray local to the Western Central Pacific, including Kalimantan, Indonesia, and possibly, the Gulf of Thailand. It lives in coastal and brackish waters and within mangroves.
They are often part of the bycatch that fishers keep for the meat and fins. The apparent and unregulated overfishing in its local range and pollution in their habitats account for their remarkable decline in number.
How You Can Help
People worldwide celebrate animals on World Animals Day (October 4) to commemorate the welfare standards and promote awareness of animal rights and efforts for their conservation.
These critically endangered marine animals are all vulnerable to fishing pressures and increasing pollution and climate change threats. Our oceans are getting warmer and dominated by industrial trash, which can significantly degrade marine ecosystems.
You can help personally by reaching out to the local officials in your area and volunteering to help monitor the state of these marine creatures. There are also many organizations, which you can check out in our Heal The Oceans campaign, that you can donate to for a farther reach.
But most importantly, start with yourself. Follow a sustainable lifestyle by recycling or avoiding plastics, be a responsible surfer by getting eco-friendly surf gear from Wave Tribe, and report any illegal activities like poaching, trading, and selling these endangered marine animals.
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