Backbone of Biodiversity at Risk
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) maintains the Red List of Threatened Species, an inventory of the global conservation status of plants and animals. In a 2010 study, researchers concluded that one-fifth of the world's vertebrates (animals with backbones) are threatened with extinction. Meet some of the marine vertebrate species that are among those threatened in this image gallery.
Hawaiian Monk Seal
The critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) is one of hundreds of marine species that can be found cruising the waters of Papahānaumokuākea, a chain of islands northwest of the main Hawaiian archipelago. Despite living in protected habitat, Hawaiian monk seals frequently become entangled in fishermen's nets, threatening their survival. It's estimated that only around 1,200 individuals survive today. Watch a recorded webcast about the latest efforts in Greece to study and save the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal.
North Atlantic Right Whale
The North Atlantic right whale is one of the world's largest animals, but scientists estimate that fewer than 450 remain. In the past, they were hunted for their oil and baleen; now they get tangled up in fishing lines, which weaken and eventually kill them. Meet a right whale named Phoenix, and learn more about their biology and why so few remain.
Courtesy of the New England Aquarium
American crocodiles are most commonly found in mangrove-lined estuaries, seagrass beds, and saltwater lagoons between the southern coast of the United States and the northern coasts of South America and Mexico. They are considered "Vulnerable" by the IUCN Red List, having undergone a population decline of 30% over the last three generations because of hunting for their hides and habitat loss. However, when their habitat is protected, their populations can recover, as has occurred in Florida.
© 2004 Smithsonian Institution
Great White Shark
Great White Sharks are marvels of evolution, with highly-evolved senses keeping them among the ocean’s top predators. However, they are threatened with extinction and listed on the IUCN Red List as "Vulnerable." Their biggest (and, perhaps, only) threat is people. Great whites are often portrayed as terrifying man-killers, which makes them a target for sport fishing and trophy hunters, who don't understand that humans do far more damage to sharks than sharks do to humans. They also can be killed by protective beach meshing, and are losing inshore habitats used as nursing grounds to encroaching development.
© Michael Rutzen
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
A scalloped hammerhead shark at Isla del Coco, Costa Rica.
© Terry Goss 2008/Marine Photobank
Galapagos Sea Lion Yawning
A Galapagos sea lion rests on a beach in Ecuador.
Rod Mast/Marine Photobank
Green Sea Turtle
A diet of algae and seagrasses gives this turtle greenish colored fat—and its name.
X-Ray Image of a White-Rimmed Stingray
This X-ray shows the mouth on the underside of a white-rimmed stingray, Himantura signifer.
© Sandra Raredon/Smithsonian Institution
Loggerhead Escapes from Fishing Net
A Turtle Excluder Device (TED) enables a loggerhead turtle to escape from a net.