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Saving Our Sharks

If sharks fin soup is served purely for traditional reasons, then shouldn’t we also bind our daughter’s feet and agree to arrange marriages as well?

The fact is – traditions were not designed to jeopardise the existence of an entire species. Radical changes are needed in the attitude and face value of Chinese people before we can begin to save what’s left of our ocean’s apex predator.

If you serve shark’s fin soup to 50 tables of guests at your wedding banquet, you have just endorsed the death of 50 sharks. One may argue that 50 chickens and perhaps 50 codfish will also suffer the same fate for a wedding banquet, so what exactly is the problem?

Aside from cruelty to the sharks, there are several more pressing issues here:

Collapse of marine ecosystems

Sharks are the apex predators that keep the whole ecosystems in balance. With less sharks to feed on rays, the population of rays have sky-rocketed to unsustainable levels in the last 30 years. Rays in turn feed voraciously on shellfish like scallops, oysters and clams. Major declines in shellfish reduce water quality because shellfish filter sea water.

The cascade of impacts resulting from overfishing large sharks goes further still. Large seagrass beds and coral reefs have been dug up and destroyed by the rays looking for shellfish. As seagrass is considered the “nursery” for many fish species, we end up with less fish, poorer quality fish and seafood.

Extinct sharks, extinct humans

Scientists are predicting that many shark species could be wiped out in 10-20 years. Over the last 50 years, finning has reduced our shark population by 90 percent with certain species like hammerheads and dusky sharks down between 95 to 99 percent. An estimated 126 of 460 shark species are now threatened with extinction.

Our future generations are set to suffer the consequences. A breakdown in the food chain will destroy the natural eco-system, churning dirty oceans and the extinction of not just the sharks but other species too like shellfish, sea beds and coral reefs.

Most people don’t realise that mankind risks becoming extinct next if sharks disappear. Without sharks, the oceans will teem with fish and other ocean animals that live off the plant life in the sea. When this plant matter disappears, so too will the vital oxygen that oceans produce.

Unsustainable rate of finning

In Asia, one kilo of sharks fins is worth an average of RM300. To fuel this extremely lucrative trade, an estimated 73 million sharks around the world are killed each year. This translates to 22,000 sharks a week, according to the Shark Research Institute.

Unfortunately, sharks cannot recover from these losses because they are a slow-growing species, maturing in 20 years or more and having relatively few young.

Not only lucrative, finning is a low-tech industry that doesn’t even require boats with refrigeration since the fins are dried.

Finning is now illegal in the waters of the E.U., The United States, Canada, Australia and 60 other countries. Hawaii, in the first law of its kind, just banned the sale of sharks fin products including pills and cosmetic products. But as long as the demand is there, this unsavoury business will continue to thrive.

Finning is cruel

Unlike the chicken or pig where almost the entire animal is consumed, fishermen waste the rest of the shark because only its fin is valuable. Sharks that get their fins cut off are not always dead when their bodies are thrown back into the sea. Without its fins, the shark simply sinks to the bottom of the ocean where it dies a slow, painful death. What a horrible way to die for such a magnificent creature!

Long standing Chinese tradition

Sharks fin soup is traditionally served at wedding banquets, birthday feasts and business dinners as a way to honour guests. In the Chinese culture, this expensive delicacy has a long and honourable history. Emperors loved sharks fin soup because it was rare, tasty and difficult to prepare. Serving sharks fin in the olden days was a matter of having face; a show of wealth and status because of its price. But these days, it is made available to the mass market, costing anywhere from RM50 to RM500 per bowl.

Why do we still champion a tradition that no longer holds esteem? If we advocate the killing of sharks in the name of tradition, then why shouldn’t we also observe other traditions that modern urbanites have rendered out-dated and old-fashioned?

Shark Facts

  • Sharks have existed on this planet for 450 million years, surviving 5 major extinctions.
  • Of the more than 500 species of sharks in the world, only 10 have been known to bite a human being.
  • It is estimated that 90 percent of all large sharks have been wiped out, and 93-99 percent of all large sharks off the east coast of North America are gone (tiger sharks, bull sharks, etc.)
  • No sharks are protected internationally. Only a handful of countries manage shark fisheries. Enforcement is very difficult.
  • Studies in Hong Kong and Taiwan show that consumers have little understanding of where shark fin soup comes from.
  • Shark fins are tasteless, and contain high levels of toxic methyl-mercury.
  • Shark fin soup is thought to be an aphrodisiac in some cultures. High levels of methyl-mercury are known to cause infertility.
  • The legal limit for consumption of methyl-mercury, set by the EPA, is 0.1 microgram per kilogram of body weight. Studies have shown shark meat contains as much as 1,400 micrograms of methyl-mercury in one kilogram. A person weighing 155 lbs would therefore get 50 times the legal amount in one single portion of shark steak.

How do we save the sharks?

  • Don’t order sharks fin soup in restaurants. Persuade others not to order it as well by promoting progressive thinking and doing away with silly old traditions that don’t make sense anymore.
  • If you live in a country where shark finning is legal, start a petition and send it to your government telling them to put an end to this practice. Finning is still legal in Malaysia but Sabah will most likely be the first state to ban it in a bid to protect its marine tourism industry.
  • When going for a holiday, don’t go to countries that legalise shark finning. Go to their tourism sites and tell them that you won’t support their tourism industry until this practice ends.
  • If you must go to places where finning is legal, don’t order any sharks fin soup.
  • Tell everyone you know to watch the film “Sharkwater” – a visually stunning and tragic tale of the oldest predator in our oceans.

For even more ways to save sharks, visit

www.SavingSharks.com

Donate to the “Shark Savers” China campaign at

www.sharksavers.org

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