Posted on November 19
Every single year, humans kill more than 100 million sharks.
The media has taught us that sharks are vicious, dangerous creatures, despite only (mistakenly) killing an average of 12 humans per year. Sharks have been around since before the dinosaurs, and they are becoming endangered and extinct at alarming rates.
So what is shark finning?
Many sharks are killed due to a barbaric and inhumane practice known as shark finning. Shark finning is the act of cutting off the shark’s fins with knives while the sharks are still fully conscious.
After the fins are sliced off, the sharks are thrown back into the ocean. They are still alive when thrown back into the water, so they suffer for days and eventually die an agonising death from either starvation, slowly being eaten by other fish, drowning, or from blood loss. They can easily drown because sharks need to be constantly moving or else their gills can’t extract oxygen from the water, and with no fins they aren't able to do these movements.
There are over 8,000 pounds of shark fins that are processed every single year. Since shark fins are only a fraction of their body weight, the other 96% of their bodyweight is discarded back into the ocean. This equates to over 200,000 tonnes of shark being thrown back into the ocean each year because it serves no purpose to humans.
Fishermen just aren’t interested in the shark meat because it has low economical value, and the shark bodies take up too much space in their boats, so they wouldn’t be able to get as many fins. As you would expect, profit is the only motivator here.
What are shark fins used for?
Credit: © Jeff Rotman/jeffrotman.com
Shark fins are mainly used for shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. There has been a very high demand for shark fin soup in China and other counties in the Far East. Shark fin soup is tasteless, the shark fins simply provide a gelatinous bulk for the soup, but the soup itself is usually always flavoured with chicken stock or something similar.
It is a part of Chinese Culture, so people continue to consume it. Shark fin soup is very expensive and can cost anywhere from $50-400 per bowl, and so it’s a pretty expensive luxury. One pound of dried shark fins can retail for $500 or more, and at these prices, it’s obvious that much of shark fin on the market will be fake.
However, shark fishermen in some countries such as Africa are becoming trapped in a cycle of debt. Since local shark populations in many areas have been depleted, the fishermen must travel much further out to sea in search of the sharks.
Doing this requires them to spend more money on fuel, and buy larger vessels. This money is sometimes loaned to them by fin traders, who deduct the loan repayments from the money they receive from shark fin catches. Fishermen are finding it harder to break even due to the declining amount of sharks in the ocean.
Credit: Johannes Eisele
It has been repeated over and over again that shark fin soup has many health benefits. However, there has never been any scientific evidence to prove this claim.
The studies that have been done on shark fins find the opposite. All of the studies find that shark body parts have the highest levels of mercury found in any other sea creatures. Mercury bioaccumulates in animals, and since sharks are very high up on the food chain, they accumulate a lot of mercury from all of the smaller animals that they eat.
Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin, and can cause irreversible neurological damage to people. If people consume large amounts of mercury, they can get mercury poisoning.
There are other dangerous toxins found in shark fins apart from mercury. One recent study found that 79% of shark fins tested contained high levels of BMAA, which is a dangerous neurotoxin linked to Alzheimer's and other brain diseases. Shark fins also contain high levels of arsenic.
What has the effect been on shark populations?
Many shark species are being pushed to the brink of extinction due to shark finning. Sharks have a very slow growth rate, and very low reproductive rates. Sharks don’t lay thousands and millions of eggs like some other fish do. Many shark species take up to 7-15 years to reach maturity, and after that they will only produce one shark pup per year.
This slow reproduction rate means that they barely have a chance to recover from all of the damage that humans have done thus far. Examples of species of sharks that are currently in danger include the scalloped hammerhead (they are endangered), and the smooth hammerhead, which is considered vulnerable. In the northwestern Atlantic, the population of the scalloped hammerhead declined from around 155,500 in 1981 to 26,500 in 2005.
According to the World Conservation Union, there are twenty species of sharks that are listed as endangered. Many of these sharks will become extinct soon. The populations of most shark species have declined by to 90%. Since 1972, the number of blacktip sharks have fallen by 93%, tiger sharks by 97%, and bull sharks, dusty sharks, and smooth hammerheads by a whopping 99%.
Credit: Antony Dickson
What effect does shark finning have on the oceans?
The decline of shark populations on ocean life has an immense negative impact. Large shark species are considered “apex” predators, because they stabilize the ecosystem. An example of how they will effect oceans was shown along the US East Coast where large shark species such as the black tips have been mostly eliminated. In this area, there has been a constant decline of shellfish, and therefore the water quality has worsened, since shellfish filter sea water and keep it clean.
The reason why there has been a decline of shellfish is because populations of small sharks, rays, and other similar sea creatures have been increasing at a rapid rate, because there are no larger sharks to eat them. These small sharks and rays consume shellfish at a rate where they can’t sustain themselves and reproduce quickly enough. The Stop Shark Finning Foundation states “If you remove apex predators from an ecosystem the result is the same as removing the foundations from a building- total collapse.”
Along with being predators in the ocean, sharks are also scavengers. They consume diseased and defective animals, while stabilizing fish populations. Shark finning also affects dolphins and other sea creatures, because some fishermen kill and cut up dolphins to use for shark bait for their longline hooks.
What is being done today to bring an end to shark finning?
The unsustainable practice of shark finning is being addressed in different ways depending on the area. Some countries have implemented bans on shark finning and their trade. Shark finning is not illegal in all countries, but it is illegal in some.
However, even when these countries make shark finning illegal, they still allow shark fins to be sold, all they do is regulate how the shark fins are produced. For example, the program Shark Savers from Wild Aid, gives an example of some of these countries regulations: “requiring the fins to be attached to the bodies of the shark or vessels’ landings must meet a certain ratio of fin weight to body weight that depends on the species and whether or not the carcass has been ‘dressed.’
Shark sanctuaries have become increasingly popular over the last few years. “Shark sanctuaries are marine areas where sharks are fully protected by strong laws and enforcement and with the support and cooperation of local communities”. These sanctuaries are found in areas such as Indonesia, the Bahamas, and Palau.
Of course, people will still continue shark finning as long as there is a demand for shark fins and products such as shark fin soups. The number one thing that should be done is to stop buying and creating a demand for these products. Protests are being held all over the world in cities and counties in front of restaurants and stores that are selling shark fins.
Andy Cobb stated “When sharks die, the ocean dies.” Shark finning is contributing to the destruction of the ocean and the ecosystems inside of it. Change has to happen immediately before all of the shark species become extinct. Awareness needs to be spread about this important issue so that people will stop creating a demand for shark fins. They are inhumane, cruel, and unnecessary.