Sharks have been around on this planet for over 400million years. Their top-of-the-food chain nature has basically shaped the way aquatic life has developed on this planet, and they’re at the head of the ecosystem.
Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in China and the Asian countries, also considered a status symbol. Now that more people in communist China are experiencing wealth, demand for shark fins has increased exponentially and there are thousands of unscrupulous individuals who are more than happy to plumb the depths of the ocean to provide. Within the past 100 years, more likely within the last 20 years, the worldwide shark population has decreased about 90%. About 10,000 sharks are caught, de-finned and tossed back in the ocean (alive) every hour. It’s a brutal, barbaric practice which has been banned in many of the major shark-congregating areas, but it’s not enforced.
Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that generate an estimated 70% of the world’s oxygen. There’s a possibility that by man’s mass slaughter of sharks that the entire aquatic ecosystem will be thrown out of whack, that without the predatory sharks keeping the phytoplankton eaters in check that more of the plankton will be consumed and our oxygen supplies will dwindle. Our efforts to preserve the rainforests and other tree-hugging activities are valiant, but what about our oceans? The green movement is great and must be emphasized, but what about the blue movement.
Sharks are being killed in tremendous numbers for solely their fins, to the point of near extinction (and they aren’t as prominent on the endangered/protected species lists as they should be). Can you imagine if you were hauled aside, had your hands and feet chopped off, and then tossed onto the street, left helpless to bleed out and die. That’s what’s happening with sharks by the dozen every minute. Shark fin consumption for stamina and health is purely superstitious. Shark fin consumption in soup is a class-status tradition that should fade away rather than be further embraced.
The shortsightedness and greed of man, or propensity for cruelty and brutality is disheartening and disgusting. So much of it is based on ignorance, and our ignorance may be our downfall.
Many of these “facts” (in quotes because you have to take the truth of any crusading documentary with some reservations) come from the film Sharkwater, which was conceived and directed by Torontonian shark-lover Rob Stewart. Stewart’s lifelong interest in sharks led to him being a biologist and underwater photographer. He’s on a crusade to address misconceptions of sharks around the world (outside of great whites, sharks don’t actively hunt humans because we’re too big. They tend not to go for anything bigger than their mouth If they bite, it’s because they’re curious as to what we are, since to some we look like wounded seals splashing around on the surface of the water). Sharks kill on average about 5 people a year. Compare that to elephants or hippos, drunk driving and drug overdoses. But because of Jaws, and you hate to pin it on the media, but fear and hysteria over the great hunters is what’s perpetuated.
In Sharkwater, Stewart joins an anti-poaching ship invited to Costa Rica by its President to help stop illegal finning and long-lining (long-lining is a particularly nasty and imprecise fishing method involving a branched system of lines leading to thousands of hooks dangling off tens of thousands of meters of line). While stopping one poaching boat and towing it to harbour, they arrive to find the coast guard arresting them instead for “attempted murder”. Stewart discovers Taiwanese shark-fin mafia’s operations and it’s no surprise that they’ve bought off the authorities. The crew return to their ship, racing the coast guard for international waters, obviously unable to ever return to Costa Rica again.
The film is sobering, angering and is a potent reminder of humanity’s endless capacity for (self-)destruction. While in many respects I don’t trust the film entirely for it’s story (not that it didn’t happen but the specifics seem Roger Moore-ishly glossed over), I’m made aware of the fact that the worlds oceans aren’t governed at all, there’s no internationally recognized law on the sea, which leads to overfishing, whale hunting and shark finning amongst other things. Visually, it’s a stunner, with some absolutely gorgeous underwater scenes, and some mighty impressive shark footage. The beauty, though, is tempered with the graphic imagery of the finning of sharks, and it leaves you speachless as it churns your stomach.
My ire was raised, and I’m trying to figure out what to do about it. As I said, the world needs a blue movement.
This Sharkwater-associated site has some tips on what to do (foremost is “see Sharkwater” which seems kind of suspect).