FACT: Fifteen species of sharks are endangered and 11 are critically endangered.
FACT: As many as 73 million sharks are killed for the shark fin trade every year.
Ever since the release of Jaws, there’s a general attitude that sharks are violent, dangerous creatures keen to attack anything that comes their way. Thankfully, the perception of sharks has been changing in recent years. This is mainly due to increasing awareness about the true nature of sharks and the important role they play in marine ecosystems.
Even with shifting perceptions, shark populations are still declining and their fate depends on how humans act in the coming years. Shark fin soup has been consumed as a delicacy item in China for hundreds of years, but this seemingly elegant dish has a darker side.
That dark side involves the practice of shark finning. This is when shark fins are harvested by fishermen. They catch sharks, cut off their fins, and then throw the struggling sharks back in the water. Sharks need to swim to maintain a constant flow of oxygen-rich water across their gills. Without their fins, they can’t swim. So, they either suffocate or sink to the bottom to be eaten by other fish. This practice is killing sharks and contributing to their population decline.
Public awareness has increased pressure on stakeholders to take action. Mail companies like UPS and DHL have already banned the shipment of shark fins, and now Air China has followed suit. This recent ban is important because China has been a major problem for shark conservation, but now they are setting a positive example by being part of the solution.
Unfortunately, recent discoveries by Sea Shepherd have shown that shipments of shark fins are being labeled with general terms to circumvent the shark fin transportation ban. In other words, people are still finding ways to illegally transport these fins. The shark fin trade is a multi-billion dollar industry; fins go for as much as $300 per pound. In addition, many individuals rely on the profits of selling shark fins, and they will do anything to keep this lucrative industry alive.
Until demand for shark fins declines, it will be near impossible to enforce the shipment bans.
Why Shark Conservation is Important
- Sharks keep the oceans healthy. They tend to prey on sick or weak fish which keeps those populations healthy.
- Many sharks are keystone species. A keystone species means that if it were to removed, the ecosystem would drastically change. For example, the rapid decline of populations of large sharks on the East Coast of the U.S. has led to sharp declines in scallop populations as well. Since the shark populations have declined, ray populations have boomed and they’ve been able to eat all the scallops they can. An established scallop fishing industry that has existed for over 100 years is now struggling due to the decline of shark populations.
- Sharks are being fished at a rate faster than they can recover. It takes sharks a long time to reach sexual maturity, 16 years for female hammerheads.
“Sharks are beautiful animals, and if you’re lucky enough to see lots of them, that means that you’re in a healthy ocean. You should be afraid if you are in the ocean and don’t see sharks.” – Sylvia Earle
What You Can Do to Help
- Sign these petitions: Stop FedEx From Shipping Shark Fins, Ban the Sale and Trade of Shark Fin Products in the USA
- Write to your senators and representatives. Use this website to find who you should contact based on where you live.
- If you encounter shark fin products being sold, you can send the information of that business to Humane Society International.
Most of all, share this information! Just starting a conversation with someone can raise awareness of the challenges sharks face and inspire others to help.