Shark-finning incidents raise concerns

  • Courtesy photo A whitetip reef shark was found finned and dead at Ka‘alu‘alu Bay in June. In addition to missing its dorsal fin, the shark also was gutted.
  • Courtesy photo Injured whitetip ocean sharks, lacking fins, were recently photographed by divers in waters off Hawaii Island.

Dramatic photographs of two oceanic whitetip sharks, lacking fins, along with photographs of a dead whitetip reef shark, are raising concern among marine biologists on Hawaii Island, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said Wednesday.

The two oceanic whitetip sharks, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, were observed alive off the coast of West Hawaii and photographed and reported by dive tour operators.

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“Shark finning is not a new phenomenon, but the recent number of incidents is concerning,” said Stacia Marcoux, a fish and habitat monitoring technician with the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources. “This is especially true for the threatened oceanic whitetip. We hope that once people see these photos they will join us in condemning and discouraging this kind of activity regardless of its legality.”

In June, Division of Aquatic Resources colleague Megan Lamson found a whitetip reef shark, finned and dead, at Ka‘alu‘alu Bay. In addition to missing its dorsal fin, the shark also was gutted.

While the finning of the two oceanic whitetip sharks was reported to the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, it’s difficult to investigate without knowing when it happened and who might be responsible.

Marcoux received photos provided by Big Island Divers and Aquatic Life Divers of the finless oceanic whitetips.

“It’s heartbreaking to see these terrible wounds on these individuals,” she said. “Sharks deserve our respect and we’re encouraged that most tour operators are educating their clients about this issue. No one wants to see an injured shark swimming by.”

Sharks are apex predators and contribute to a healthy marine ecosystem, Lamson and Marcoux said. Many shark species are long-lived, they reproduce slowly and anything that threatens them can lead to sudden populations declines.

They added that pono fishing practices include shark protection because they help sustain healthy fish communities and a balanced marine ecosystem.

Additionally, certain shark species are culturally and spiritually important.

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State law prohibits the take, killing, possession, sale or offer for sale of whitetip reef shark and other shark species in West Hawaii. It also is illegal to intentionally catch a whitetip reef shark to remove a fin within the West Hawaii Regional Fishery Management Area, and to possess, sell, offer for sale, trade or distribute shark fins anywhere in the state.

Anyone who sees any of these activities is asked to call the DLNR hotline at 643-3567 or report it via the free DLNRTip app available for iPhones and Android devices.

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