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Published: Thursday, 3/7/2013

Predators become prey

If movie director Steven Spielberg remade Jaws, his 1975 blockbuster about a great white shark that terrorizes a resort beach, it would have to be updated to fit today’s grim realities. Instead of humans at risk when the ominous music cues up, the sharks would be in danger.

According to a new study by researchers at Dalhousie University in Canada, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year by illegal catches — and that’s a conservative estimate. The number of sharks slaughtered annually for their dorsal fins could be as high as 273 million, the study concludes.

Annual shark-on-human attacks number fewer than a dozen. But they receive disproportionate media attention because the creatures are so fearsome. There’s little sympathy for sharks because of our primordial fear of them.

The populations of some sharks, such as the hammerheads of the Mediterranean, have plunged by as much as 99 percent. Oceanic white-tip sharks have practically disappeared from the Gulf of Mexico. The population of white-tips is down by 90 percent in the Pacific and 70 percent in the northwest Atlantic.

The fate of sharks is among the topics to be discussed at this year’s convention on international trade in endangered species of fauna and flora. Representatives from 177 countries who will attend the meeting agree that averting potential extinction of sharks is a priority.

Sharks are an invaluable part of the world’s biodiversity. The disappearance of such creatures because of greed is an indictment of our species.

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