Sphyrna lewini (Northwest and Western Central Atlantic subpopulation) 

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Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Chondrichthyes Carcharhiniformes Sphyrnidae

Scientific Name: Sphyrna lewini (Northwest and Western Central Atlantic subpopulation)
Parent Species:

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A2bd+4bd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2007
Date Assessed: 2007-02-20
Assessor(s): Baum, J., Clarke, S., Domingo, A., Ducrocq, M., Lamónaca, A.F., Gaibor, N., Graham, R., Jorgensen, S., Kotas, J.E., Medina, E., Martinez-Ortiz, J., Monzini Taccone di Sitizano, J., Morales, M.R., Navarro, S.S., Pérez, J.C., Ruiz, C., Smith, W., Valenti, S.V. & Vooren, C.M.
Reviewer(s): Musick, J.A. & Fowler, S.L. (Shark Red List Authority)
This assessment is for the subpopulation occurring in the Northwest and Western Central Atlantic (including Caribbean Sea). Estimates of trends in abundance are available from two long-term research surveys conducted on the U.S. east coast, both of which indicate this species has undergone substantial declines in this region (98% between 1972-2003, and an order of magnitude between 1975 and 2005). A third survey comparing catch rates between 1983/84 with those in 1993-95 showed a decline of two-thirds, while a survey beginning more recently showed increases in catch rates of juveniles. Standardized catch rates from the U.S. pelagic longline fishery show declines in Sphyrna spp. of 89% between 1986 and 2000 (according to the logbook data) and declines of 76% between 1992 and 2005 (according to observer data). The other information for this species from this region comes from Belize, where it has been heavily fished since the 1980s and fishermen have reported dramatic declines, which led to the end of the fishery. Fishing pressure is sustained in Belize by Guatemalan fishermen.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:In the western Atlantic, this shark occurs from New Jersey (United States) to Uruguay, including Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea (A. Domingo pers. obs. 2007, Compagno in prep).
Countries occurrence:
Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Aruba; Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Bermuda; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (Saba, Sint Eustatius); Cayman Islands; Colombia; Costa Rica; Cuba; Curaçao; Dominica; Dominican Republic; French Guiana; Guadeloupe; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Jamaica; Mexico; Nicaragua; Panama; Puerto Rico; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; Saint Lucia; Saint Martin (French part); Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Suriname; Trinidad and Tobago; United States (Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia); Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – western central; Atlantic – northwest
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):275
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:This is a coastal and semi-oceanic pelagic shark, found over continental and insular shelves and in deep water near to them, ranging from the intertidal and surface to at least 275 m depth (Compagno in prep.). The pups of this species tend to stay in coastal zones, near the bottom, occurring at high concentrations during summer in estuaries and bays (Clarke 1971, Bass et al. 1975, Castro 1983). They have been observed to be highly faithful to particular diurnal core areas (Holland et al. 1993) and sometimes form large schools which migrate to higher latitudes in summer (Stevens and Lyle 1989).

Horizontal migration is observed from inshore bays to a pelagic habitat as the sharks grow. This species segregates by sex, with females migrating offshore earlier and at smaller sizes than males. In the Gulf of Mexico and northern Australia, it was observed that males less than 1 m long were more abundant over the continental shelf, but females bigger than 1.5 m dominated areas near the edge of the shelf. Adults spend most of the time offshore in midwater and females migrate to the coastal areas to have their pups (Clarke 1971, Bass et al. 1975, Klimley and Nelson 1984, Branstetter 1987, Klimley 1987, Chen et al. 1988, Stevens and Lyle 1989). Nursery areas are found in shallow inshore waters, while the adults are found offshore (Compagno 1984, Holland et al. 1993, Kotas et al. 1995, Lessa et al. 1998). Neonates and juveniles are known to shoal in confined coastal pupping areas for up to two years before moving out to adult habitat (Holland et al. 1993). In the Northwest and Western Central Atlantic, the coastal area between South Carolina and central Florida is believed to be an important nursery area (Castro 1993). In southern Brazil, near-term gravid females migrate inshore to nursery grounds (at 2–10 m depth; bottom water temperature of 20–24°C) and give birth in spring (November–February) (Dono et al. in prep., Vooren and Lamónaca 2003). Juveniles then remain between the shore and 100 m depth (Vooren 1997, Kotas et al. 1998). In northern Brazil (latitude 3°S), this species appears to breed at a smaller size and have lower fecundity than reported elsewhere (Lessa et al. 1998).

Throughout the species’ range in the Eastern Pacific, parturition is thought to occur between May and July in shallow nursery areas (Ruiz et al. 2000, Torres-Huerta 1999). The northern Gulf of California and Bahía Almejas on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur appear to be important pupping and possible nursery grounds.

The species is viviparous with a yolk-sac placenta. Only the right ovary is functional. In Taiwanese (POC) waters, ovum development takes approximately 10 months and ova reach a maximum diameter of 40–45 mm. The number of oocytes in the ovarium can be as many as 40–50 per female (Chen et al. 1988). The gestation period is around 9–12 months, with birth in spring and summer. The average number of embryos in the uterus ranges from 12–41 and females pup every year. Newborn size ranges from 31–57 cm (Castro 1983; Compagno 1984; Branstetter 1987; Chen et al. 1988; Stevens and Lyle 1989; Chen et al. 1990; Oliveira et al. 1991, 1997; Amorim et al. 1994; White et al. 2008). Predation on pups and juveniles is high, mainly by other carcharhinids and even by adults of the same species. This is probably the most significant source of natural mortality on the population (Clarke 1971, Branstetter 1987, Branstetter 1990, Holland et al. 1993), and may explain, in evolutionary terms, the higher fecundity of this species compared to some other sharks.

Maximum size reported by different studies, ranged from 219–340 cm TL for males and 296–346 cm for females (Clarke 1971, Bass et al. 1975b, Schwartz 1983, Klimley and Nelson 1984, Stevens 1984, Branstetter 1987, Chen et al. 1988, Stevens and Lyle 1989, Chen et al. 1990). Males mature between 140–198 cm TL and females at around 210–250 cm TL (Compagno 1984b, Branstetter 1987, Chen et al. 1990, Carrera and Martinez in prep., White et al. 2008). Branstetter’s (1987) growth study in the Gulf of Mexico found asymptotic length for both sexes of 329 cm TL and 253 cm fork length (FL), with an index of growth rate of k = 0.073 y-1. Piercy et al.’s (2007) more recent study used Fork Length (FL) rather than total length (TL) and suggested faster growth, with asymptotic length of 214.8 cm FL for males and 233.1 cm FL for females, with an index growth rate of k=0.13 year-1 for males and k=0.09 year-1 for females. It is unclear whether these differences are related to sample size, methodology or changes resulting from a density-dependent compensatory response to population depletion. In Ecuadorian waters, Carrera-Fernández and Martínez-Ortíz (2007) found that females matured at 225 cm TL, reaching a maximum size of 302 cm TL, and males matured at 190 cm TL, reaching a maximum size of 282 cm TL.

The age and size of first maturity has been studied in several different areas; the Gulf of Mexico, Western Central Atlantic, Taiwanese (Province of China) waters, Northwest Pacific and Mexican waters, Eastern Central Pacific. Branstetter (1987) estimated that males mature at 10 years, 180 cm TL and females at 15 years, 250 cm TL in the Gulf of Mexico. During a recent study by Piercy et al. (2007) on the age and growth of S. lewini in the Gulf of Mexico the oldest age estimate obtained was 30.5 years for both males and females. Whereas, Chen et al. (1990) estimated that males mature at 3.8 years, 198 cm TL and females at 4.1 years, 210 cm in Taiwanese Pacific waters and Anislado-Tolentino and Robinson-Mendoza (2001) estimated that males mature at 4.3 years and females at 5.8 years in the Mexican Pacific waters. Both studies in the Gulf of Mexico show that this species appears to grow more slowly and have smaller asymptotic sizes than reported in the Pacific Ocean. The vast differences in age and growth reported between Taiwanese Pacific waters/Mexican Pacific waters and other oceanic regions may arise from different interpretation of vertebral band formation rather than true geographic variation (W. Smith pers. comm.). Current published age estimates of S. lewini from the Mexican Pacific and Taiwanese Pacific are based on growth estimates that assume the deposition of two centrum annuli per year (Chen et al. 1990, Ansilado-Tolentino and Robinson-Mendoza 2001), whereas studies in the Gulf of Mexico assume the deposition of one growth band per year (Branstetter 1987, Piercy et al. 2007). The Pacific estimates have not been validated and the deposition of two centrum annuli has not been confirmed in any other shark species to date (W. Smith pers. comm.), therefore these estimates should be viewed with caution. Previous evidence of the deposition of two annual bands in the Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus), has not proven to be valid and this may be the case for S. lewini (Campana et al. 2002). If growth data presented by Chen et al. (1990) were converted to reflect a one growth band per year hypothesis, then the results of these studies would agree more closely. Validation of the periodicity of growth-band deposition is required for both the Pacific and Atlantic populations to resolve this issue (Piercy et al. 2007).

Comparing different estimates for the values of k on S. lewini (0.054–0.160 yr-1), by different authors, suggests that this is a ‘medium growth species’ (Branstetter 1987). Smith et al. (1998) estimated the intrinsic rate of increase at MSY of 0.028.

Adult S. lewini feed on mesopelagic fish and squids. In certain areas stingrays of the (Dasyatis spp.) are the preferred food. Pups and juveniles feed mainly on benthic reef fishes (e.g., scarids and gobiids), demersal fish and crustaceans. (Bigelow and Schroeder 1948, Clarke 1971, Bass et al. 1975, Compagno 1984, Branstetter 1987, Stevens and Lyle 1989).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): In the USA this species is caught in both commercial coastal shark bottom longline and gillnet fisheries and the pelagic longline fishery, where it suffers high mortality (Piercy et al. 2007). It is also taken in recreational shark fisheries. The USA pelagic longline fishery has operated since the 1960s and encompasses the entire range of this species in the Northwest and Western Central Atlantic, from the equator to about 50°N. Although this is quite a fecund shark, its late age at maturity in this region (15 years) will render it quite vulnerable to overexploitation, and limit its recovery potential.

Estimates of trends in abundance of Sphyrna spp. are available from standardized catch rate indices of the U.S.A. pelagic longline fishery, from logbook data between 1986 and 2000 and from observer data between 1992 and 2005. The area covered by this fishery, ranging from the equator to about 50°N, encompasses the range of this species in these two regions. Although this fishery will not sample individuals closest to the coast, the sample size of hammerheads recorded in the logbook data (the majority of which are thought to be S. lewini) is substantial, with over 60,000 recorded during this period. This subpopulation of Scalloped Hammerhead sharks is estimated from the logbook data to have declined by 89% over the 15 year time period, from 1986–2000 (Baum et al. 2003), which is less than one generation. A more recent analysis of the pelagic longline observer data indicates that Sphyrna spp. declined by 76% between 1992 and 2005 (Baum et al. in prep.). The pelagic longline fishery has operated in these regions since the 1960s, thus declines from 1986 were certainly not from virgin population abundance.

Using logistic regression of S. lewini, Ha (2006) showed that the probability of capture in a fisheries independent sampling program off Virginia, USA, declined by an order of magnitude between 1975 and 2005. Species-specific trends in abundance are available for S. lewini from a shark-targeted longline survey conducted annually between 1972 and 2003 near Cape Lookout, North Carolina, by Dr. F.J. Schwarz at the University of North Carolina. Standardized CPUE from this research survey based on a sample size of 495 S. lewini indicates that it has declined by 98% over this 32 year time period (Myers et al. 2007). Off southern Carolina, Ulrich (1996) reported a 66% decrease between 1983/84 and 1991/95. In contrast to all other data, a more recent research survey (1989–2005) along the southeast U.S. coast shows a significant increase in juvenile scalloped hammerheads (Myers et al. 2007).

Off the Atlantic coast of Belize hammerheads were fished heavily by longline in the 1980s and early 1990s (R.T. Graham pers. obs. 2006). Hammerheads are a favoured target species for their large fins. Interviews with fishermen indicate that the abundance and size of Sphyrnids has declined dramatically in the past 10 years as a result of over exploitation, leading to a halt in the Belize based shark fishery (R.T. Graham pers. obs. 2006). However, the pressure is still sustained by fishers driving into Belizean waters from Guatemala (R.T. Graham pers. obs. 2006). Fin prices are rising above US$50/lb in the neighbouring countries of Guatemala, driven by Asian buyers, according to these interviews (R.T. Graham pers. obs). This species is probably caught in other fisheries but is usually placed in a combined "hammerhead" category. Species identification (S. mokarran vs. S. lewini) is a large obstacle in the proper assessment of this species. The high at-vessel fishing mortality for both species of hammerhead makes the threat of fishing high. Sphyrna lewini is also taken in various fisheries along the Caribbean coast of South America. It is taken in artisanal gillnet fisheries targeting mackerel off Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and in pelagic tuna fisheries of the eastern Caribbean (Chan A Shing 1999).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: In the U.S. this species is included in the Large Coastal Shark complex management unit, on U.S. Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (National Marine Fisheries Service: Federal Fisheries Management Plan for Atlantic Tuna, Swordfish and Sharks). There are, however, no management measures specific to this species, and no stock assessments. Efforts to limit catches of this species, and increased monitoring of incidental catches in commercial fisheries are both recommended.

Classifications [top]

9. Marine Neritic -> 9.1. Marine Neritic - Pelagic
10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.1. Marine Oceanic - Epipelagic (0-200m)
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.1. Harvest management

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.2. Intentional use: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.4. Unintentional effects: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

♦  Food - human
 Local : ✓   National : ✓  International : ✓ 

Bibliography [top]

Baum, J.K., Myers, R.A. and Blanchard, W. In prep.. Estimating trends in abundance from fishery-dependent data: recent changes in Northwest Atlantic pelagic shark populations.

Baum, J.K., Myers, R.A., Kehler, D.G., Worm, B., Harley, S.J. and Doherty, P.A. 2003. Collapse and conservation of shark populations in the Northwest Atlantic. Science 299: 389-392.

Chan A and Shing, C. 1999. Shark fisheries in the Caribbean: The status of their management including issues of concern in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Dominica. In: R. Shotton (ed.), Case studies of the management of elasmobranch fisheries, pp. 1–479. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper, Rome, FAO. 1999.

Ha, D.S. 2006. Ecology and Conservation of Virginia Shark Species: Analysis of 30 Years of Virginia Long-Line Census Data, 1974-2004. Ph.D. dissertation, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary.

Myers, R.A., Baum, J.K., Shepherd, T.D., Powers, S.P. and Peterson, C.H. 2007. Cascading Effects of the Loss of Apex Predatory Sharks from a Coastal Ocean. Science 315: 1846-1850.

Ulrich, G.F. 1996. “Fishery independent monitoring of large coastal sharks in South Carolina (1993-1995), final report”. U.S. NOAA and Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act NA47FI0347-01.

Citation: Baum, J., Clarke, S., Domingo, A., Ducrocq, M., Lamónaca, A.F., Gaibor, N., Graham, R., Jorgensen, S., Kotas, J.E., Medina, E., Martinez-Ortiz, J., Monzini Taccone di Sitizano, J., Morales, M.R., Navarro, S.S., Pérez, J.C., Ruiz, C., Smith, W., Valenti, S.V. & Vooren, C.M. 2007. Sphyrna lewini (Northwest and Western Central Atlantic subpopulation). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2007: e.T165293A6000960. . Downloaded on 22 June 2018.
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