Tons of Sharks Have Been Hiding in the Galapagos

May 12, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

A group of hammerhead sharks wims over the sandy seafloor at Darwin Island
Photo credit: Enric Sala/National Geographic, from 'National Geographic Pristine Seas'

Wolf and Darwin Islands are home to the world’s largest shark biomass.

The Galapagos Islands are home to iconic animals like giant tortoises and Darwin’s finches. But below the surface, there is a whole other world that is bustling with life.

Recent expeditions by scientists from the Charles Darwin Research Station and the National Geographic Society revealed that the waters surrounding two of the northern Galapagos islands, called Darwin and Wolf, are jam-packed with sharks.

Sharks in nearly all other reaches of the world’s oceans are threatened by extinction because of overfishing and loss of habitat. The depletion of these top predators has disastrous effects that reverberate through the entire marine ecosystem.

SEE ALSO: Thought to Be Extinct, Rare Sea Snakes Found Again in Australia

Over a period of two years, the team of researchers used stereo-video surveys to document the presence of sharks at seven sites around Darwin and Wolf Islands.

To put the sheer abundance of sharks discovered around these islands into perspective, the researchers estimated that the shark biomass in these areas is as much as 12.4 tons per hectare. By comparison, Costa Rica's Cocos Island, home to the world's next largest shark biomass, has only 7.1 tons per hectare.

The discovery of this shark hotspot inspired the Ecuadorian government to announce the development of a marine sanctuary around Darwin and Wolf in March 2016. Up until then, the area was not fully protected from fishing.

The researchers argue that the new marine sanctuary will not only ensure the well-being of the sharks, but will also have an economic upside. “The economic benefits of ecotourism from sharks are far greater than shark fishing,” they wrote.

According to the researchers, their recent study published in the journal PeerJ “adds to the growing body of literature that highlights the ecological uniqueness and the global irreplaceable value of Darwin and Wolf.”

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