(CN) – A wildlife organization announced an unprecedented move in asking Mexico’s government to enforce an injunction to prevent the widespread killing of three species of hammerhead sharks.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking Mexico to enforce the provisions of NOM-059, Mexico’s equivalent of the Endangered Species Act. The center believes it is likely the first action asking a judge to enforce provisions of the Mexican law.
“It’s one of a kind,” said Alejandro Olivera, who granted an interview from the center’s office in La Paz, Mexico. “Normally in Mexico, you make a proposal for a species to be listed and then wait five years for the government to review.”
The hammerhead sharks in question can’t afford to wait, Olivera said.
Mexico has a robust fishing industry, and many hammerhead sharks are captured as bycatch. Many are also targeted for food in Mexico and for their fins, which are exported to Asia.
“It’s a very common food in Mexico,” Olivera said of the sharks.
The suit focuses on three species of hammerhead sharks. The scalloped hammerhead and the great hammerhead are already listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The third species, the smooth hammerhead, is listed as “vulnerable” to extinction by the IUCN.
“These incredible animals are being hammered by shark-fishing, but the Mexican government is doing almost nothing,” Olivera said. “International experts warn that these sharks could face extinction, and Mexican officials should do their part and safeguard hammerheads under our country’s regulations.”
Scalloped hammerheads receive protection in U.S. waters as they are listed under the Endangered Species Act. But in Mexico, all three species are fair game. And with the shark fin trade still a lucrative industry, the species are often sought after by commercial fishing operations, according to the center.
“Until Mexico takes action, hammerheads will keep being killed by the thousands for their fins,” Olivera said.
Mexico ranks fourth in the world in shark fishing by volume.
From 2015 to 2018, Mexico exported about 300,000 pounds of hammerhead shark fins, with a focus on sending them to China and Hong Kong.
Hammerhead sharks are named after the unusual shape of their heads and are one of the most distinctive species of shark in the world.
Scientists believe the unique morphology of the shark could help it detect and trick prey, and maneuver swiftly in hunting situations. For instance, when hunting rays, they can use their head to pin down the ray and feed on it when it is weak and in shock.
Other aspects of the hammerhead shark’s behavior are unusual, as they form schools during the day but hunt alone at night. They can grow to as long as 19 feet and weigh up to 1,200 pounds.
Hammerheads are not known to be particularly aggressive toward humans, with only 17 documented attacks and zero fatalities in the last 500 years.
The practice of finning – used by those looking to send the shark’s fins to places in Asia – is particularly brutal, as the shark is captured, has its fin cut off and is released back into the water where it slowly dies.
Should Mexico introduce protections, the practice could be significantly reduced, Olivera said.