When it comes to animals with bad PR, sharks are arguably at the top of the list.
Thanks to popular culture images of sharks, like Jaws and The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, many view them as evil predators.
The truth is, though, sharks rarely attack people and in recent decades, shark populations have been on the decline. (In one of the ultimate ironies, Jaw’s author Peter Benchley spent the final years of his life as a shark conservationist.)
Sharks play an important role in the complex ocean ecosystem.
Amongst other things, sharks are ocean caregivers. They are unique creatures and unlike most species of fish, sharks can’t just bounce back from decline. (A large part of this has to do with the facts that sharks simply don’t produce a large number of offspring.)
Even if we don’t happen to near live the ocean ourselves, many people-especially those in the developing world, rely on the oceans for their profession and for their food.
In the last 50 years, shark populations have experienced a staggering decline. Over 55% of all species are currently at a high risk for extinction or will be in the near future. Some species have been depleted by as much as 90%.
The depletion reached crisis levels with the current economic boom in East Asia, especially in China.
For centuries, shark fin soup has been viewed as a delicacy reserved mainly for the upper classes. However, today more middle class and upper middle class Asians can afford the $100 per bowl price tag.
Many shark experts argue the practice isn’t just wasteful, but also cruel. In many cases, sharks are caught, have their fins cut off and are then tossed back into the water while still alive.
Despite the fact that some environmentalists have called for more strict treaties and limits or outright bans on the harvesting of certain shark species, this has proved largely ineffective. Not only are “many countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East [uninvolved] in global management treaties” but even if they are, many “lack resources to keep track of what shark species get killed in what quantity.”
In addition to this, the illegal fishing industry continues to thrive.
While some may conclude that trying to save the sharks is a lost cause there has been some good news lately and that is people simply aren’t eating as much shark fin soup as they used to.
In the last two years alone China and Malaysia banned shark fin soup at government functions while at least five hotel chains pledged to stop serving it.
Recently, the price of shark fins has fallen so dramatically that it is now on par with the price of squid in Guangzhou, China.
However, least anyone thing that the sharks’s woes are over think again.
As shark expert Shelley Clarke points out, while over all demand for shark fins has dropped an estimated 25%, the demand for shark meat is rising.
As an article at Yale Environmental 360 points out:
“[H]umans are killing these ancient fish faster than they reproduce. Research by Canada’s Dalhousie University indicates that 100 million sharks are slaughtered every year. If the tide is indeed “turning,” it needs to turn faster.”
Indeed, while they may not be as cuddly as say, pandas, sharks need to be protected and saved.
Besides playing a valuable role in the earth’s ecosystem, these fish also have a nobility and a grace of their own. As the same Yale article points out, sharks pre-date humans by about 450 million years. It would be a shame to exterminate these animals.
We owe it to yourselves and future generations to ensure they remain here on earth-maybe even after we as a species no longer are.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
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