Where’s the Shark Love?

Large sharks have trouble garnering sympathy. As a result, protection from overfishing is so poor that a third of pelagic (open ocean) sharks are threatened with extinction.

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Threatening and threatened. © Jeremy Stafford Deutsch

Large sharks have trouble garnering sympathy. As a result, protection from overfishing is so poor that a third of pelagic (open ocean) sharks are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. A separate U.N. fisheries panel has proposed new protections for six fish worldwide: the Atlantic bluefin tuna and five sharks (Porbeagle, Oceanic whitetip, and three types of hammerhead) under the March 2010 CITES Convention, which would limit harvests and the highly profitable trade of shark fins.

Demand for shark fin soup in Asia continues to grow even as China’s biggest celebrity, NBA star Yao Ming, speaks out against it in commercials depicting a finned nurse shark bleeding to death underwater. Most Chinese are not even aware that shark fin soup contains shark, says WildAid executive director Peter Knights, because in Mandarin it translates as “fish wing soup.”

While Knights hopes that more international treaties will reduce the annual slaughter of up to 100 million sharks, he recalls the lessons learned from the initially unsuccessful protection of tigers in 1975. “You have to work on the demand at the same time, or illegal trade will just take over,” he says, noting that the Galapagos is a current hotspot of illegal trade in shark fins.

Many campaigns to protect sharks are coordinated through the website run by the Shark Safe Network. Consumers in the U.S. are targeting restaurants that serve shark fin dishes, and a national listing of such restaurants is maintained online by the Animal Welfare Institute.

Animal Rights National Conference 2018