The Brutal Business of Shark Finning
Human beings are skilled at justification. Every year humans slaughter over 100 million sharks yet we depict them as vicious and blood-thirsty killers.
No more than 12 people a year are killed by sharks worldwide. In fact is more dangerous to play golf than to swim in the ocean with sharks. More golfers are struck by lightning and killed each year than the total number of shark fatalities. Many more humans are struck and killed by boats every year than are attacked by sharks.
Yes, we also kill them for their teeth and jaws, and we kill them for shark leather for shoes and belts. We slaughter them for shark liver oil and for shark cartilage for pseudo cancer cures. Sharks are used in cosmetics, skin care products and in medicines.
We kill sharks because of our fear of them, for food, for sport, and most disturbing of all - so that some of us can make a tasteless, expensive soup to impress our family and friends.
It is the mass slaughter of sharks on longlines and in nets for the sole purpose of taking their fins that is responsible for the incredible diminishment of shark populations around the world.
The fins are highly prized. The fishermen catch the sharks and slice off the fins, unmindful whether the shark is alive or not. The bodies, most of them still alive, are tossed back into the sea to bleed to death or to be attacked by other sharks or fish.
Sharks are Endangered
Over 8,000 tons of shark fins are processed each year. The fins only amount to 4% of a shark's bodyweight. This means that some 200,000 tons of shark are thrown back into the sea and discarded.
Already 18 species of sharks have been listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Shark Fin Soup - for what?
The fins are dried, stacked, and sold, mostly illegally. The buyers extract the collagen fibers, clean them, and process them into "shark fin soup."
This soup has no flavor and absolutely no nutritional value. It is a dish served only for prestige purposes, selling for anywhere from US$50.00 to US$400.00 per bowl.
The demand for shark fin soup has developed since 1985 and coincides with the rapid growth of the Chinese economy. The demand from China is for staggering amounts of shark fins. As a result, the oceans are literally being scoured clean of sharks. Poachers are invading national marine parks like the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and Cocos Island in Costa Rica to catch sharks.
Forget the fictional fear spawned by Steven Spielberg's ridiculous film Jaws. The oceans are no longer safe for sharks. And the horror is that we don't just kill them, we hack off their limbs and toss their mutilated bodies back into the sea to die an agonizing and horrific death.
Sea Shepherd Singapore has been educating the public for the last several years about the devastating effect that the Asian culture's use of shark fin soup is having on shark populations. Grant Pereira, Sea Shepherd Singapore representative and SSCS Advisory Board member, has overseen the production of a series of striking postcards and is marketing them widely with the objective of stopping this useless, wasteful, and cruel so-called "tradition."
Why Should We Care About Sharks?
We should care because sharks are valued citizens of oceanic eco-systems. They are both predators and scavengers, and these roles they play contribute to eliminating diseased and genetically-defective animals and help to stabilize fish populations.
We do not know enough about marine ecology to understand what the impact of this incredible onslaught of shark deaths will bring about. There will be consequences.
Life in our oceans has been seriously disrupted. With shark populations reduced from 70% in some species to up to 95% in other species, the consequences are extremely serious.
For example, removing sharks will increase octopus populations resulting in greater predation on lobsters by octopus. This was the very reason that the spiny lobster fishery collapsed in Tasmania.
One of the things we forget is that sharks differ from other fish. They do not lay thousands or millions of eggs. Many sharks take up to fifteen years to reach maturity and then produce only one shark pup per year. Such a fragile and slow reproduction rate means that their populations may never recover from the damage we have already inflicted.
Sharks Need Our Protection
The position of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is that no sharks should be killed and should be given complete global protection under law. Sea Shepherd has long fought the practice of longlining and regularly confiscates illegal killer lines (and nets) from the oceans.
Protecting sharks is a more difficult job than protecting dolphins or seals. From the point of view of public relations, seals are cute and dolphins have that lovely natural smile. The shark, in contrast, shows its teeth and, hence, they look menacing.
However, dolphin lovers should know that fishermen kill and cut up dolphins for shark bait for their longline hooks.
As conservationists, we must recognize the value of the interdependence of all species in the oceans and that the shark is an important part of the diversity of marine ecological eco-systems.
We must oppose the cultural practice of consuming shark fin soup, and we must discourage the consumption of sharks for cosmetics and for trinkets. Most importantly, we must educate the general public that sharks are not the vicious, "cold-blooded" creatures many people believe they are.
We need not peer into the dark depths of the sea to see the monstrous creatures that maim and kill by the millions - we need only look into a mirror.