I first heard of shark finning a few years ago whilst watching the documentary “Sharkwater” by the late Rob Stewart. It opened my eyes on so many levels. If you haven’t watched it yet, I strongly recommend you do so, you will learn a great deal about the importance of sharks to ecosystems and the humankind’s mass destruction of sharks around the world.
Anyway, for those of you who don’t know, “finning” refers to catching sharks, cutting off their fins (usually the pectoral, dorsal, and caudal fins), and throwing them back into the ocean, unable to move, die a horrible slow and painful death by either suffocating, bleeding to death or simply being eaten alive by other fish or predators. You can’t find the words to describe how you feel by reading this? Well, don’t worry, you are not the only one. There is not enough words to describe how barbaric, senseless, cruel and inhumane this practice is and the frightening reality is, it happens every single day. While 100 million sharks are killed every year, as many as 73 million of those are killed for their fins.
The fins are used in majority for shark fin soup, an Asian “delicacy”, considered to be a symbol of wealth. Yes, that’s right, despite being an absolutely tasteless ingredient with no nutritional value, shark fins are used to make soup. Recent evidence shows that shark fins contain high concentrations of mercury and methylmercury, which is considered unsafe for human consumption. Not to mention that shark products are also used for an insane amount of products we have no idea about such as energy drinks, vitamins, make up, etc. but let’s focus on the fins for now. Over the last 30 years, the number of people eating shark’s fin has risen from a few million to more than 300 million today which is putting our planet’s sharks, and health, at risk.
Not only is the finning of sharks barbaric but the unsustainable rate of their slaughter and the lack of selection is pushing so many species to the brink of extinction as they simply cannot reproduce fast enough. Indeed, many sharks take up to fifteen years to reach maturity and then produce only one shark pup per year which means that certain populations may never be able to recover from the damage we have already caused. Being an illegal activity, it is hard to give an exact number as estimations are only based on declared catches to shark fin markets but according to shark experts, the population of several species have been decimated by over 95% since the 1970s. More than 70 percent of the most common shark species involved with the fin trade are considered at high or very high risk of extinction and nearly one third of pelagic sharks species are considered threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
This is not without having any impact on the environment, being on the top of the ocean’s food chain, sharks are essential to the marine ecosystems keeping marine life in a healthy and regulated balance. They have been doing so for more than 450 million years. The removal of apex predators such as sharks from a community would cause a cascade of ecological changes. Our existence, in part, is dependent upon theirs. They are a critical component in an ecosystem that provides us with so much including food, water, medicines, and most importantly, half of the air we breathe. Not to mention that the ocean also captures half of the atmospheres manmade CO2 emissions and controls the planet’s climate. Yet, we are allowing ourselves to destroy, one of the oldest and most important predators on the planet.
Despite all the efforts of environmental groups, conservationists and government bodies, the demand for shark fins is still one of the greatest threats facing shark populations around the world. While, we don’t know for sure what will happen on a global scale if sharks disappear, we know it’s going to impact life on Earth. Life on land depends on life in the oceans. Sharks are controlling our ocean, they are the guardians of our blue planet, which means that “it’s not just about saving sharks, it’s about saving ourselves”1.
By Emilie Chartier
The Conservation Project International
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Images: Interpol and Huffington Post Article: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/20/shark-fin-costa-rica_n_4305394.html
Fin Free, global campaign addressing the mass slaughter of sharks caused by the high demand for shark products (http://www.finfree.org).
International non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (http://www.seashepherd.org).
“Shark Finning Primer with A Lifelong Activist-Conservationist”, by Kip Evans, Mission Blue’s Director of Photography and Expeditions, ”, 25 July 2017. https://mission-blue.org/2017/07/shark-finning-primer-with-a-lifelong-activist-conservationist