Atlantic sharks making a comeback

Atlantic white sharks may be at the top of the food chain, but trophy fishing and inadvertent catch by fisherfolk—known as by-catch—decimated their numbers in the western North Atlantic Ocean by as much as 73% in the 1970s and 1980s. That led to major international protections, restricting, in some waters, finning or commercial harvesting—and a new database on shark sightings in the western North Atlantic Ocean suggests the measures are working. The study, which included 649 confirmed records of shark captures or sightings between 1800 and 2010, combined new records gathered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with previously published data. Since 1990, scientists found, the sharks’ abundance is now “comparable to what it was in the 1930s and 1940s,” wrote authors in PLOS ONE this week, noting that this is “a more optimistic outlook for the recovery of this iconic predator.” Although rebounds are also apparent in the southern Atlantic and Pacific oceans, preventing by-catch worldwide can help protect “the long-term sustainability of their populations,” the authors add. Some celebratory chum for shark fans: The biggest animal documented in the study was more than 5 meters long.

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