(CMR) The oceanic whitetip shark, one of the world’s most endangered sharks with a 98% decline worldwide, has been spotted in Cayman Islands waters on several occasions. The sharks have declined in the last 60 years due to accidental fishing or being caught for their fins.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified it as critically endangered, one step away from extinction, and its slow reproductive cycle means it faces a long road to recovery.
The sharks have been spotted using a baited remote underwater video (BRUVS) as part of the Blue Belt’s Global Ocean Wildlife Analysis Network project.
All sharks are protected by law in the Cayman Islands, and this sighting highlights the importance of the Cayman Islands as a haven for these species.
The Blue Belt has been working with the Cayman Island's Department of Environment to deploy these BRUVS, and discover more about the marine ecosystems present around the islands to inform ongoing management and protection.
An apex predator, the oceanic whitetip used to be one of the most abundant species of shark swimming in the tropical oceans, but due to its preference for roaming near the surface, it is caught easily by fishing nets.
Scientists working under the UK’s marine conservation Blue Belt Programme recorded the shark, known for its inquisitive nature, swimming around the BRUV camera and rubbing its head against the bait.
John Bothwell of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment said the sharks are often seen on the surface, but to capture one on camera was “amazing”.
“You’ve got this beautiful video of what is really a charismatic megafauna for us. We’ve seen this with other video footage, in particular with other Bruvs, that we can then use to talk about these animals and the environment that they’re in and the threats they’re under,” he said.
“We’ve got our waters protected, but now we can use this to help explain to other people – we need your help to protect these sharks,” Bothwell added.
The Blue Belt Programme connects Overseas Territories from the Caribbean to the Antarctic to the Indian Ocean through scientific knowledge and resources with the aim of conserving unique ocean ecosystems.
Researchers want to provide policymakers in Overseas Territories with a base of scientific knowledge that they can use to inform their conservation programs while showing why conservation is important.
Dr. Paul Whomersley, the lead scientist of the Blue Belt’s Global Ocean Wildlife Analysis Network project, said: “It’s always trying to use the science and the evidence to develop that policy and protection because we find that if you just go down that blanket route of saying no, it never works.
“But to actually be able to present why you think it’s important is really valuable,” he added
Bothwell said: “But of course, the first step is getting the protections in place locally and globally and then doing the science like this to figure out how much we have left and where are the hotspots for them.
“We’re so used to some of these species being under such reduced numbers, whether it’s sharks, marine turtles, whatever, and saying we’ve got a pretty good number there.