He’s convinced that the ocean’s cartilaginous fishes are right up there with gorillas and elephants in terms of their ability to inspire awe. But despite this charisma, Wildlife Conservation Society President and CEO Dr. Cristian Samper said that sharks and their kin face a dire reality.

To this point, the Outdoor Hub reports Samper’s harsh response to new findings released Jan. 22 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which indicates that things aren’t so rosy for the world’s sharks, rays, skates and chimeras.

“A global analysis of the conservation status of the 1,041 species of cartilaginous fishes undertaken by IUCN’s Shark Specialist Group for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species estimates that one-quarter (24%) of shark and ray species are threatened with extinction,” Samper said. “This is a significant downward trend in the conservation status of these fishes from previous assessments and provides evidence that they are at substantially higher risk than most other groups of animals. This is a disheartening development that bodes poorly for the future of these marvelous fishes.”

Samper expressed particular concern that five of the seven most threatened families identified in the IUCN study are actually rays, not sharks. Sawfishes, guitarfishes, stingrays, wedgefishes, he noted are largely overlooked by resource managers and conservation advocates, even though they may be just as vulnerable, heavily exploited, and in need of conservation action.

The Asian shark fin soup market claims a lot of guitarfish, while manta and devil rays are heavily targeted for their gill rakers. Targeted meat fisheries and bycatch add to the intense pressure.

In light of the disheartening ICUN report, Samper said WCS will bolster its commitment to the conservation of sharks, rays, and their relatives through its own research and advocacy. Part of that plan is a global gut check.

“We call on all sectors of society to take urgent steps to reduce the threats to sharks and rays,” Samper said. “In particular, and in recognition that the major threat to these species is overfishing, we urge the fisheries sector to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and put in place and implement science-based limits on shark and ray fisheries to recover threatened and depleted species – and to champion the long-term survival of all cartilaginous fishes.”