US Chooses to Keep Great Hammerhead Shark Off of Endangered Species List

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by Carlos Grillo via Getty Images)

More than 500 species of sharks dwell beneath the rolling waves of the world’s oceans. The aquatic carnivore comes in all shapes and sizes, from the titanic 40-foot whale shark to the tiny dwarf lantern shark, which stretches a mere seven inches in length, smaller than a human hand. Among the most fascinating of them all, however, is the hammerhead shark. The striking appearance and unique characteristics of the hammerhead have captivated marine scientists for centuries.

We typically associate sharks with pointed faces and gaping maws. Hammerheads, however, have flat heads with lateral projections producing their distinctive hammer-like shape. Their eyes are mounted on either side of their hammer-shaped head, giving the apex predator a full 360-degree view of their surroundings.

The extraordinary hammerhead has been roaming the ocean for millions of years, evolution carrying them through the ages all the way to modern times. Tragically, however, their populations have been steadily decreasing for decades. As of now, most, if not all, of the species are under threat of extinction.

To make matters worse for the great hunters of the sea, the US National Marine Fisheries Service recently made a heartbreaking announcement. They decided not to add the hammerhead shark to the Endangered Species List.

NMFS Argues the Hammerhead Shark Isn’t in Need of Protection

According to a notice in the Federal Register this week, the NMFS received a petition regarding the hammerhead shark in June. In it, the Center for Biological Diversity argued that the unusual shark was marked “critically endangered” in 2019. As such, it more than meets the criteria necessary to gain protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The NMFS, however, disagreed with the findings of the wildlife organization entirely. In the notice, they claimed that the shark isn’t in danger, nor do they foresee a threat in the future.

“We completed a comprehensive status review of the great hammerhead shark in response to these petitions,” they said. “And based on the best scientific and commercial information available, including the status review report (Miller et al. 2014), we determined that the species was not comprised of distinct population segments (DPSs), was not currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and was not likely to become so within the foreseeable future.”

The NMFS’ findings sparked disappointment and outrage among conservationists. Kristin Carden, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, shared her thoughts on the matter with Deeper Blue.

“The decision not to move forward with protecting the hammerhead shark under the ESA is disappointing and misguided,” she said. “This critically endangered species has suffered a global population decline of more than 80% over the past 70 years. The agency’s failure to protect great hammerhead sharks keeps them on the path toward extinction.”