I’ve been fortunate to see sharks on a few different dives. As most divers will attest, dives with sharks are much fewer than dives without them. They are amazing to watch. I’ve never had the opportunity to dive with Great Whites, but I would. I would do it for the same reason that I’ve taken photographs of lions and cheetahs, wild dogs and dingoes. They are apex predators. They are beautiful. And they are important. I see no difference between a lion on the African plain and a shark in the ocean.
Every time humans mess with nature and eliminate apex predators from an environment, we suffer from unintended consequences. We killed all the wolves in the West and the herds of elk overran their territory, in turn weakening the herd. We’ve started reintroducing wolves back into their natural habitat with good results. They are culling the herd and everything is healthier, including the elk.
According to the World Resources Institute, humans rely on the ocean for one-fifth of their animal protein and one billion people rely on seafood as their primary protein source. At the same time we allow the wholesale harvesting of sharks—the ocean’s apex predator—and we have absolutely no idea what that will mean to the health of the ocean. What’s really sad, is we aren’t even harvesting sharks for meat. Millions of sharks are killed annually for their fins. Estimates vary on the actual number because no one tracks it, but conservative estimates suggest a median of 38 million sharks a year. Yes, that is MILLION.
Sharks are netted or caught on a line and brought to the surface. Once they are brought on board the boat, their fins are cut from their body and the bleeding shark is tossed back overboard to die in the water. This is the rough equivalent of killing a bear or a lion for its claws. The stiffeners inside a shark fin are tasteless and contain material similar to hooves or fingernails—keratin. All of this so people can have shark-fin soup, a delicacy.
This frustrates me on several different levels. It’s selfish. A select group of people demand shark fins so they can have a “delicacy” with no regard to the consequences. It’s short-sighted. The harvesting of sharks is throwing the ocean out of balance with unknown consequences, at a time when we depend extremely heavily on the oceans already. It’s barbaric. Shark fins are harvested while the animals are still alive and then the animal is thrown into the ocean.
Finally, it’s just plain wasteful. I can’t speak for all religions, but I do know Christians are called on to be good stewards of the world we live in. I’m sure every other major religion says the same thing. I can’t imagine how this is considered good stewardship.
Sharks are beautiful, amazing creatures. And they are being destroyed for the silliest of all reasons. For soup. Would anyone in the world accept cutting the feet off of a lion, even though it is a frightening apex predator, and then leaving it on the African plains to die?
I don’t often get off into the “political” with this blog. I prefer to talk about the beauty in the world. But when I see something I know is wrong, I have to say something. Fortunately, shark finning is illegal in the United States, but many other countries allow it and much of the open ocean is not under any nation’s laws.
Call on CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to stop finning.
Sign the Petition from Project AWARE!