Watching (Out for) Sharks

Shark Week Reminds Us of the Perilous State of the World’s Favorite Predators
This week is Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” and millions of Americans will tune into the annual broadcast, which features shows like “How Sharks Hunt” and “Great White Invasion.” This year, Shark Week is advertised to be more “action-packed” than ever, and the attention to sharks is deeply needed—scientists are predicting that many shark species could be wiped out in 10-20 years. One of the reasons for their plummeting population is shark finning, where sharks fins are cut off for use in shark-fin soup In the brutal practice, fishermen will catch a shark, use a machete to cut off their fins and then throw the shark back in the ocean. The shark will not survive without its fins, and will either bleed to death, be consumed by other fish or drown, because sharks need to keep moving to force water through their gills for oxygen. The Discovery Channel posted this disturbing video of shark finning in action.

The Shark Research Institute (SRI) estimates a mind-blowing 73 million sharks die every single year just for their fins—and killing rates can be as high as 22,000 sharks a week.

Since 1972 the number of blacktip sharks has fallen by 93%, tiger sharks by 97% and bull sharks, dusky sharks and smooth hammerheads by 99%. Dusky sharks and hammerheads were listed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to be among the most sought-after shark species to hunt for fins. Tiger sharks and blacktip sharks were in the second most-preferred category.

Shark fins are one of the most expensive fish products in the world despite being tasteless and high in mercury. Shark fin soup is a popular Chinese delicacy often served only in high-end restaurants or at special occasions like weddings due to its high cost. The soup is also served in high quantities throughout the U.S. (This list from The Animal Welfare Institute names restaurants in the U.S that serve shark fin soup).

The bottom line is if we want to continue to celebrate these ancient marine predators on an annual basis, shark finning has to stop. The market for shark fins continues to be a multibillion dollar industry, particularly in major Chinese cities like Hong Kong and Singapore. Organizations like the SRI, World Wildlife Fund and Ocean Geographic Society are working to educate Chinese kids about the dangers of shark finning. Last month, they joined forces to host the “1,000 Kids, One Message” event at Hong Kong’s Cyberport. Kids gathered in the shark fin capital of the world to voice the pledge, “I am the future, I won’t eat shark fins.”

Shark Savers and WildAid, which have been campaigning against the practice of shark finning since 1999, are currently working on their “Say No to Shark Fin Soup” campaign with support from basketball star Yao Ming and other Chinese and American celebrities.

In the U.S, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii have all passed bans on the trade of shark fins but shark fin trade is still legal in California, and with a large Chinese-American population, the state is one of the largest markets for shark fins outside of Asia. That could change with new Assembly Bill 376, which will deem it “unlawful for any person to possess, sell, offer for sale, trade, or distribute a shark fin” in California. The Ocean Conservancy currently has a petition that you can sign until August 15 to show your support for Assembly Bill 376.

Peter Knights, the executive director of WildAid, told The New York Times that he believes the shark fin trade will ultimately end, but “the question is, will it end while we’ve still got some sharks left?”