May 4

A single live shark is worth about $1.9 million in tourist revenue over its lifetime, according to new research. 

Photo of silvertip shark

Silvertip shark, a species recorded from waters around Palau.

Sharks worth more alive than dead

The study, by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, looked at shark tourism around the Pacific island of Palau. It found that the industry brings in $18 million to Palau a year, or about 8% of the country’s gross domestic product. This makes each shark worth around $180,000 annually. 

Photo of silky shark with SCUBA divers

Scuba divers swimming with a silky shark.

In contrast, a shark sold for its meat is worth around $108, making it an incredible 17,000 times more valuable alive than dead.

According to Mark Meekan of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Sharks can literally be a ‘million-dollar’ species and a significant economic driver. Because of their low rates of reproduction and late maturity, shark populations have been driven into a global decline due to fishing. Yet our study shows that these animals can contribute far more as a tourism resource than as a catch target.”

Shark populations under threat 

Shark populations around the world have been decimated by overfishing and bycatch. Millions of sharks are killed each year to meet the increasing demand for shark-fin soup, and in many cases sharks are caught, their fins sawn off, and the shark thrown back into the water while still alive.

Photo of fisherman holding dorsal fin cut from scalloped hammerhead

Dorsal fin cut from a scalloped hammerhead. Millions of sharks are killed every year for their fins, used to make shark-fin soup.

In 2009, Palau became the first country in the world to declare its waters to be a shark sanctuary, off-limits to shark fishing and shark finning. It has also since declared whales, dolphins and dugongs to be off-limits. Last year, Honduras and the Maldives followed Palau’s example, while other nations have moved to ban the possession, sale or distribution of shark fins.

Value of living sharks

Although this study focused on the economic value of sharks for tourism, the role played by sharks in the ecosystems they inhabit should not be underestimated. As top predators, sharks are an important part of the marine food chain, and their loss can have potentially significant impacts on other wildlife.

Photo of blue shark feeding on northern anchovies

Blue shark feeding on northern anchovies.

Shark tourism can be a viable economic engine,” said Matt Rand, director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group, which commissioned this research. “Overfishing of sharks can have disastrous effects on ocean ecosystems, but this study provides a compelling case that can convince more countries to embrace these animals for their benefit to the ocean and their value to a country’s financial well-being.

Find out more about the Palau Shark Sanctuary.

View stunning shark photos and videos on ARKive.

Find out more about species from Palau on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author