National Geographic : 2016 Aug
the shipwreck shark 123 protection. And in 2013 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) enacted restrictions that severely cur- tail legal trade in their fins. The question is whether the protections are too little, too late. Many bony-fish populations can quickly repopulate after being overfished, because they spawn relatively early in their life cycles and lay thousands of eggs at a time, but most sharks reach sexual maturity slowly and then give birth to small litters of pups every one or two years. These factors make them ex- tremely vulnerable to overfishing and suscep- tible to extinction. And in the case of oceanic whitetips, “we still don’t even know whether they give birth every year or every two years,” says marine biologist Edd Brooks. “How do you begin to conserve an animal when you have so little information about how it lives its life?” Brooks is one of the scientists trying to fill in some of those gaps. He’s part of a team of re- searchers that since 2010 has been tagging and studying oceanic whitetips off Cat Island, in the Bahamas. “Cat Island is the last place we know of on the planet where you can reliably find them in serious numbers,” he says. It was not just the first time he or any of his colleagues had done comprehensive, hands-on research on the spe- cies. It was the first time anyone had, anywhere. Cat Island is right at the edge of the continen- tal shelf, bringing the deep waters of the Atlantic close to shore and making it a perfect spot to find Two whitetips are now a crowd, but 50 years ago they could be seen by the hundreds. Though tales of their man-eating are overblown, they were once notorious for swarming shipwreck survivors.