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Sep 19, 2016 09:10 AM EDT

Stanford Study Reveals Larger Marine Animals' Extinction Risk May Be Caused By Humans

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A study led by Stanford University on today's marine life has revealed that humans are the primary culprits behind the risk of extinction of larger marine animals. Apparently, they are being targeted first for consumption.

In a post on Stanford University's official website, there is a trend in today's oceans that "selectively targets" larger marine animals over the smaller ones. This pattern of extinction is found to be likely driven by human fishing.

"We've found that extinction threat in the modern oceans is very strongly associated with larger body size," Jonathan Payne, a paleobiologist at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, said. "This is most likely due to people targeting larger species for consumption first."

The Stanford-led study examined the association between extinction threat level and ecological traits, like body size, for two major groups of marine animals, the mollusks and vertebrates over the past 500 years. The data is then compared to the ancient past, as far back as 445 million years ago.

The study will be published in the Sep. 16 issue of the journal "Science." The research is done by Payne and colleagues Noel Heim, a postdoctoral researcher in Payne's lab, Matthew Knope, a former postdoc in Payne's lab who is now an assistant professor of biology at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo, as well as Andrew Bush of the University of Connecticut and Doug McCauley of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"We used the fossil record to show, in a concrete, convincing way, that what is happening in the modern oceans is really different from what has happened in the past," Heim said. It was noted that for every factor of 10 increase in an animal's body mass, the risk of extinction goes up by about a factor of 13 or so.

Boris Worm, a top marine scientist at Dalhousie University in Canada, praised the study. "[It] shows us how unusual this crisis of biodiversity we have right now," he told CBS San Francisco.

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