Protect Sharks for Healthy Oceans
What are sharks?
Sharks are not nightmare fish that hunt for swimmers! In fact, we are hunting them to extinction and if they disappear, our oceans will suffer greatly. Marine biodiversity is losing its balance globally and one reason is the massive numbers of sharks being killed annually. Since our oceans provide us with our atmosphere, water, and even much of the oxygen we breathe, we cannot afford the consequences of failing to protect them.
With many attributes that have barely evolved since they first appeared, sharks have been on Earth much longer than we have, in fact, they were here long before dinosaurs! The earliest shark fossils date back to almost 450 million years while dinosaurs did not appear until 230 million years ago. Most shark fossils are teeth or fossilised skin, and these specimens help scientists determine where and when sharks existed on Earth’s timeline. Sharks are beautiful apex predators that have survived Earth’s past 5 mass extinctions, but will they survive our exploitation?
There are approximately 440 known species of sharks, hopefully with many more yet to be discovered. Almost all sharks are carnivores, meaning that they feed on other animals, dead or alive. However, all sharks and even rays have been severely exploited for the ostentatious trade in shark fin as an Asian food delicacy. Although shark fin was never considered a health food, most consumers don’t seem to know that it may be a serious health risk. Studies have proven that long lived fish species such as sharks have lots of mercury in them.
Are sharks really a threat to humans?
Of the sharks in our seas, only a handful offer a potential threat to humans while the majority of sharks usually avoid human contact. Their common foods are sea lions, sea turtles, fish, or already dead marine animals, not men. Divers seem to be attacked less frequently than surfers. Perhaps we could look at things from a shark’s perspective and see that surfers might seem like some of their regular foods?
Despite popular negative misconceptions of sharks, shark attacks are very rare events. Unprovoked shark attacks average 80 per annum and only 6 of those cases are fatal.
Due to misleading publicity and outdated info, perhaps the most famous and feared shark is the Great White. While one must treat them with respect and caution, they are not mindless killing machines and prefer their normal prey, such as seals, to survive. At times, a surfer’s silhouette resembles a seal from a hite fin shark’s perspective so this can Kong prompt an attack. Although they may attack, they are not known to follow through with feeding. Perhaps they avoid strange prey? However, attacks from such powerful animals do not leave people unscathed! On the other hand, Great Whites don’t survive human attacks and the dried fin in the photo at left proves that we are the most fearsome killers on Earth.
The Unsustainable Shark Fin Trade
Around 100 million sharks are killed every year, mainly due to our demand for shark fin. That’s roughly 190 sharks killed per minute! As fins are dried and can store indefinitely, traders continue to take as much as they can in unregulated high seas. Long lines that stretch for hundreds of miles are often used and this fishing method indiscriminately kills unintended marine life such as turtles, cetaceans, seals and even sea birds. A fishing vessel’s storage space is also at a premium, so fishermen usually take just the fins off of sharks at sea and leave the animals to suffer a slow death.
Many larger sharks take decades to reach reproductive age and don’t give birth frequently, nor do they bear many young. Current demand for shark fin is still much greater than sharks can produce quickly enough to cope with and this unsustainable practice must end before it is too late!
The Consequences of losing sharks.
Sharks are apex predators in our marine ecosystem, meaning that they have very few natural enemies. They play a vital role in controlling the populations of their prey and subsequently the population of countless species urther down the food chain. If sharks were to disappear, I would cause an irreversible negative cascading effect our ecological balance.
Changing Bad Cultural Habits
Due to its location, Hong Kong has long been a global trading port and has also been known as the hub of the shark fin and elephant ivory trade. A recent study of shark fins available in Hong Kong retail shops identified at least 76 species, with a third of them categorised as endangered, while dozens more are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ or above in the IUCN Red List.
As a result of education and the resounding effect of global legislation, the demand for shark fin consumption has dropped by 70-90% in the past decade throughout Hong Kong and Asia’s Southern regions. We’ve begun to understand the vital role sharks play in biodiversity and the ostentatious nature of shark fin soup. However, continued conservation efforts are still essential to prevent further degradation to and restoration of shark populations.
Shark fin soup.