Over 34 species of shark inhabit the waters surrounding the Galápagos Islands. Travelers visit from around the globe in order to catch a glimpse of hammerhead, whale and Galápagos sharks—and the archipelago is not one to disappoint. Pelagic sharks, or those inhabiting the upper layers of the open ocean, comprise a vast majority of the species living around the islands. It’s not uncommon for divers—even snorkelers—to swim among hammerhead, blacktip and whale sharks.
Sharks in the Galápagos Islands are threatened by illegal fishing, particularly longlining. Longline fishing vessels often cross the boundary of the Galápagos Marine Reserve with fishing lines up to 100 miles long. Hundreds or even thousands of baited hooks can hang from a single longline, attracting shark and large game fish. It’s estimated that globally, 100 million sharks are killed each year through longlining, many in and around the Galápagos Islands.
Global demand for shark parts, especially shark fins, drives the illegal shark fishing industry, the majority of which comes from China. Growth of the Chinese middle class has increased global demand for shark fins due to the cultural significance of shark fin soup, a delicacy that is consumed on special occasions. Because shark fins are worth much more than the rest of the shark, a practice of “finning” can occur on fishing vessels, which involves removing the fins of a living shark and casting it back into the ocean to die. While shark finning at sea is largely prohibited, it is difficult to enforce due to the great demand and the hefty price paid for shark fins.
The unique ecosystem of the Galápagos Islands makes it an ideal home to a great variety of sharks. Preservation of the many shark species found in the archipelago is needed to ensure the continued biodiversity of the aquatic environment surrounding the islands.