Last year over 100 million sharks were killed by fisherman primarily for their fins causing an unsustainable drop in the world populations of many species. What does this mean for the planets oceans and why should you care ?
Sharks have existed for around 400 million years, 200 million years before dinosaurs appeared, and have changed very little; in fact along with crocodiles they are one of the few remaining species that survived the extinction of the dinosaurs. They are almost perfect, highly developed, Apex Predators who sit at the top of the food chain and are guardians of the world's seas and oceans. They help to maintain the balance of the ecosystem by regulating numbers right down the food chain, this prevents any species population becoming so abundant that the food change collapses.
Vilified by the media and made infamous by Peter Benchley's film Jaws these magnificent animals are being hunted to extinction. Consumer demand for shark products driven by ignorance and superstition are at an all time high. Advances in modern, commercial fishing techniques and greed driven by high prices present a bleak future for sharks unless things change fast.
The demand for shark fins is driven primarily by the popularity of the Chinese delicacy Shark Fin Soup which is often served at weddings and banquets as a symbol of wealth and prestige. The soup or stew is made from skinned, dried and bleached pectoral or dorsal fins from any species of shark. The fins are tasteless and used only as a thickening agent and to provide texture.
The sharks are caught mainly using long lines and are hauled aboard where their fins are cut off and then, as shark meat is has very little value, they are kick back overboard to make ready for the next one. The still living shark cannot swim and so either suffocates or is eaten by other sharks an ignominious death for such a majestic creature. Sharks reproduce slowly so their numbers are declining rapidly; in fact there are now 39 species on the IUCN critically endangered list and further species including the Great White, Basking and Whale Shark that are on the verge of being listed.
What can you do to help ?
The demand for shark fin soup in some areas is declining and many restaurants have removed it from the menu due to public pressure. There are a number of things you can do to make a difference including:
- Boycott Chinese restaurants that sell shark fin soup and tell them why.
- Join a lobbying organisation such as the Shark Trust or Bite Back
- Buy from retailers that have banned shark products like ASDA or donate part of their profits to marine conversation charities like we do. See our Grey Reef Shark Pendant
- Raise awareness with friends and family.
� In a 2006 survey carried out in China by Wild Aid 35% of participants said they had eaten shark fin soup in the last year.
� A similar survey by WWF found that 83% of those questioned had eaten shark fin soup at some time.
� Hong Kong is the main centre for trade with up to 80% of the world's supply and the market is growing at 5% a year driven by demand from mainland China.
� The largest supplier is Spain with up to 5000 tonnes a year followed by Norway at 39 tonnes.
� A single Whale Shark fin can sell for up to $15,000.
� The industry is valued at $1.2bn and has links to organised crime.
Unless we acknowledge the impact we have on the marine environment and change our behaviour towards it very soon it will be too late and sharks, like many species before them, will be confined to aquariums and the history books.