September 21, 2021

A Melbourne Skate swimming
The Melbourne Skate is assessed as Vulnerable in The Action Plan for Australian Sharks and Rays 2021. This species has a slow growth rate and limited biological productivity. Its population is thought to have reduced by more than 30 per cent in the past three generations (56 years). Conservation recommendations include mitigating capture by commercial trawling, reducing post-release mortality and idenifying and protecting critical habitat. Image: Ian Shaw

MEDIA RELEASE: 21 September, 2021

Dr Peter Kyne with The Action Plan for Australian Sharks and Rays
Dr Peter Kyne with The Action Plan for Australian Sharks and Rays 2021.

The first complete assessment of extinction risk for all Australian sharks, rays and ghost sharks (chimaeras) reveals Australia is home to more than a quarter of shark species on the planet, but 12 per cent of those are at risk of extinction.

The Action Plan for Australian Sharks and Rays 2021 has been published today by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program Marine Biodiversity Hub.

Lead author, Charles Darwin University senior research fellow Dr Peter Kyne says severe population declines are driving some species toward extinction and urgent action is needed.

“While Australia’s risk is considerably lower than the global level of 37 per cent, it does raise concern for the 39 Australian species assessed as having an elevated risk of extinction,” Dr Kyne said.

“Around Australia, many of our threatened sharks and rays are not commercially important so these are largely ‘out of sight, out of mind’, but they require protection at national, state and territory levels.

“There are positive signs that protection and management is working for some iconic species such as the White Shark and Grey Nurse Shark, although our assessment shows that these species remain threatened.”

Marine Biodiversity Hub Director Dr Alan Jordan says the Action Plan is the first attempt at a comprehensive national overview for managers of all sharks and their habitats.

“It identifies priority at-risk species, those that need further protection and species of no immediate concern,” Dr Jordan said.

Co-author Dr Michelle Heupel from the Australian Institute of Marine Science says the success of Australia’s strong focus on sustainable fisheries is demonstrated by the fact that some 80% of Australia’s 328 shark species are not threatened.

“In Australia, comprehensive fisheries management along with vast areas that are unfished or lightly fished and the marine protected area network have helped secure the status of many species,” Dr Heupel said.

Australian waters also serve as a refuge or ‘lifeboat’ for 45 species that are threatened in other parts of the world such as the Giant Guitarfish and the Spotted Eagle Ray.

“These species remain secure in Australian waters,” Dr Kyne said.

“But while we should celebrate the secure status of many species, we urgently need to increase our research and management efforts for Australia’s threatened sharks and rays.

“This book is a call to action to secure all Australian sharks, rays and ghost sharks for the future.”

Media resources

Related information

A graphic summarising the extinction risk for Australian sharks, rays and chimaeras
The Action Plan for Australian Sharks and Rays 2021 applies International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Categories and Criteria at the national level to assess the extinction risk for each of Australia’s 328 sharks, rays and chimaeras. The assessments reveal that sharks and their relatives are faring better in Australia than in the rest of the world, with a relatively low level of threatened species.
A Colclough's Shark
Colclough's Shark is classified as Vulnerable in The Action Plan for Australian Sharks and Rays 2021. These rare and unobtrusive blue-grey sharks grow to less than one metre and their longevity is unknown. They live off Australia’s east coast, from Byron Bay to the central Queensland coast, snoozing unseen under rocky reef ledges by day. At night they forage around reefs and seagrass beds, which puts them in the path of prawn trawlers. Additionally, urban development degrades their inshore habitat, particularly in important places such as Moreton Bay. Research recommendations for this species include clarifying the species' geographic range, monitoring catches in commercial fisheries and evaluating age-and-growth. Conservation recommendations include protecting habitat, reducing bycatch in commerical fisheries and improving survivorship after capture through safe release and handling. Image: Nigel Marsh
A Largetooth Sawfish in shallow water
The Largetooth Sawfish once had a wide global distribution. Australia is the most significant remaining global location for this species, but even here it is assessed as Critically Endangered by The Action Plan for Australian Sharks and Rays 2021. The population has undergone a reduction of greater than 80% over the last three generations (66 years). Recommended conservation actions include reducing capture, reducing post-release mortality, and maintaining river-estuary connectivity (the species' life cycle depends on movement between fresh and brackish waters). Image: Peter Kyne