Pregnant female sharks and rays are likely to abort their offspring when captured in nets or on fishing-lines, say the scientists in a study published in the Biological Conservation journal. 

They undertook what they say is the first synthesis of existing scientific data to find that premature births or abortions were common side-effects when sharks were caught, with an average of 24% of pregnant females losing their offspring when captured.

The researchers found instances of this happening across 88 different shark and ray species, including endangered and protected species, with some more susceptible than others.

They claimed that many marine biologists were unaware of the issue, and the fact that they too could be inducing abortions when capturing sharks and rays for tagging or study.

Lead author of the report Kye Adams advised that if anyone catching a shark suspected from its girth that it was pregnant it should be left in the water and handling-time minimised accordingly.

He also suggested that bans could be imposed on fishing around nursery areas, especially where endangered species were under threat.

The report can be viewed here.

Divernet - The Biggest Online Resource for Scuba Divers