A couple of weeks ago, a video popped up in my newsfeed on Facebook. In a procrastinating mindset, I decided to watch the 1:32 film, featuring shark conservationist Ocean Ramsey. This singularly beautiful video shows Ramsey swimming with a great white shark in the waters near Baja, Mexico:
While it is a stunningly moving clip to watch, I would never, ever, ever do anything of the sort. But, the video did remind me of my love for sharks and the devastating flight the species as a whole endures everyday: shark finning.
Shark finning happens when a shark is caught and captured, has its fins (typically the dorsal and pectorals) sliced off with a knife for keeping, and is then tossed back to the ocean. The sharks are almost always alive when this occurs and as they are now limbless and unable to swim, the sharks sink within the depths of the ocean to their deaths. These deaths can last for days and may include being slowly eaten by other fish, bleeding out and even suffocation, as the shark is now powerless to move in order to cause water to pass over their gills.
And the shocking thing is, this happens every day all over the world’s oceans. In fact, depending on which source you look at, between 26 to 100 million sharks die every single year in this manner for their fins. It doesn’t matter to the fisher of what age, size, or species of shark; all of them are at risk of becoming victims to shark finning. Even though sharks have been swimming in the oceans for 450 million years, it is estimated that over the past 15 years, several shark populations have declined by 98 percent, while within the last 50, the global shark population has decreased by 90 percent! At the phenomenal rate humans are killing sharks, there just isn’t enough time for the sharks to maintain healthy and stable populations.
As apex, or top predators, sharks are pretty big players in their respective ecosystems. Take them out of the picture (or reduce their numbers to a dangerously low amount) and marine ecosystems are at risk. In oceans worldwide, sharks help keep populations of other fish in check by taking the weak and dying. This way, other fish can reproduce within a healthy population. The sharks ensure that these healthy fish make for balanced ecosystems and that the animals that eat fish (including humans) will be ingesting a healthy fish—not a sickly one. Plus, without sharks to keep fish populations in check, the food resources which prey animals eat will become overgrazed, creating barren ecosystems. Without sharks, fish populations and thus their ecosystems become unhealthy.
This is why we need our sharks—apart from the glaring reason that shark finning is cruel. Overfishing and killing sharks in the high numbers that have become the norm is eradicating a species that has been on the planet since before, that’s right, before the dinosaurs, while also damaging marine ecosystems and the apparently infinite ocean. These unsustainable practices are dangerous for the sharks, oceans, and humans and must come to an end.
These declining statistics and rise in shark-fin popularity are linked to the demand of the rising middle class in China. Shark-fin soup used to be primarily eaten by the very wealthy social class (sometimes at $300.00 a bowl) symbolizing prosperity and honor. But since the 1990s, this luxury food item is now seen at many a wedding and special event. With two shark fins fetching around $700 (and a great white shark pectoral fin can sell for $100,000), it is understandable why people from all over the world will hop in a boat to go far out to sea to catch sharks, slice off their fins and then discard the rest.
Fresh shark fins drying in Hong Kong:
China has reportedly taken steps to lower the price and limit the use—and therefore the leverage—of shark fins. In addition, many marine reservations and countries have protected sharks or banned shark finning. Even though this is excellent news, selling shark products remains legal in much of the world and shark finning is still happening every day as imports of shark fins continue to be taken in globally—including in the United States. It is estimated that 57 metric tons of dried shark fins have been imported into the U.S. since 2011. Nearly impossible to regulate in the middle of nowhere of the world’s oceans, it is difficult to detect shark fins where they are prohibited, including in the eight states which have banned the sell of the fins.
While there have been important steps to stop the consumption of shark-fin soup, sharks are still being killed by the millions and consumed in heavily seasoned bowls of soup. Word of mouth and educating people of what it costs to produce this soup is key to ending the practice. Sharks may not be the most beloved of the world’s creatures, instead they are probably the most feared. Admittedly, I get a bit uneasy when I am way out in the ocean, far from the beach and reaching depths of at least twenty feet in murky ocean water. So yeah, I get being afraid of them and so therefore I understand any indifference that can stem from the fear. But right now, sharks can’t live with us being indifferent and afraid of them, rather we should be afraid for them. Sharks desperately need friends. Human friends. They are in dire need of us because even though we are the ones who are overfishing and taking their fins, we are also the only ones who can end what is happening to them.
So tell people about shark finning. Tell your friends, family, classmates and those you work with. Don’t eat shark meat or shark fin soup and don’t buy products that would require the death of a shark. Sign petitions against finning and thank politicians and businesses that have decided to fight against it. But the more people who know and are aware, the better. Go out be a friend to sharks and save some lives, too
Below you can find links with information on the countries, territories, states and companies that have banned shark finning; a link of businesses still offering shark fins; articles and websites devoted to the conservation of sharks and marine life:
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