The Plight of Sharks

The Plight of Sharks

Posted by Michael Starbuck on 24th Jul 2014

To many, whether it be as a result of watching 'Jaws' from an early age or too many reruns of 'Shark Attack Week', sharks – the ocean's apex predators - are considered the stuff of nightmares. Sure, they may not look like a cuddly lion cub or a baby orangutan; but as the top of the ocean's food chain – they are essential in keeping our oceans healthy and stable.

Every year tens of millions of sharks die a slow death because of 'finning' - the barbaric practice of hacking off the shark's fins and throwing its dying body back into the sea. The finless sharks either starve to death or drown (as if they are not in constant movement their gills cannot extract oxygen from the water). Shockingly, these fins are being harvested in ever greater numbers in order to feed the growing demand for shark fin soup - an Asian "delicacy" served at weddings and banquets.

We stumbled across this video from the 'Bite Back' initiative here showing this awful practice in full. Be warned however – it is pretty distressing.

Through this video you can see that not only is the finning of sharks barbaric, but their indiscriminate slaughter at an unsustainable rate is actually pushing many species to the brink of extinction. Every year nearly one hundred million sharks are killed by humans, and of that an estimated seventy three million are killed for their fins for the shark fin soup trade. Conversely, in 2012, there were eighty shark attacks worldwide – of which only 7 were actually fatal. So for every one human killed by a shark, the world took its revenge out on over 10 million sharks – hardly a fair ratio.

What's even more worrying is that due to the clandestine nature of finning, records are rarely kept of the exact numbers of sharks and the species that are being caught - 100 million is therefore only an estimate - and sadly, this number could be a whole lot more. Estimates are solely based on the declared imports to shark fin markets such as Hong Kong and China. Species including hammerheads, great hammerheads, great white sharks, whale sharks and oceanic whitetips, as well as other marine species (including manta rays), are often the main targets for fishermen. Resultantly, many of these once widespread species are now highly endangered and, in some cases, critically so. Since the 1970's, the populations of several species have been decimated by over 95% - a horrifying statistic.

The good news is that companies and establishments are beginning to take note. Numerous restaurants have started to ban the sale of shark fin soup in Hong Kong (see here) and other cities worldwide, and airlines (including most recently Singapore Airlines) banning the transportation of the fins. But it is clear that there is plenty more work to be done. 'Bite Back' alone have reported that so far this year, around 50 million sharks have already been slaughtered - sadly, this number is increasing every second.

So - how can we all help?

- First and foremost, avoid all restaurants that serve shark fin on the menu. There are more than you think, even in England! Have a look at this map of establishments from the 'Bite Back' website here.

- Tell your friends and relatives and share via social media the plight of sharks. After all - the more people that know the better!

- Get involved with shark conservation initiatives that monitor these fantastic animals. These include 'The Great White Shark Project' and the 'Whale Shark Research Project'!

- Sign 'Wild Aid's' shark pledge calling upon world leaders to prevent the buying and selling of shark fins.

Let's help put an end to this barbaric practice!


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