Kill sharks, kill the planet

China, Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under

Kill sharks, kill the planet

8 Comments 21 March 2011

Originally a delicacy in Chinese culture, shark fin soup has risen in popularity along with the size of China’s middle class in recent years. Once something only served to the wealthy at weddings and celebrations, today shark fins can be found everywhere from high-end to fast food restaurants.

I first heard about the Chinese meal during one of CNN’s Planet in Peril segments. At that point I was still quite afraid of sharks, so didn’t care too much about the issue until I saw the footage. Like sharks or not, watching thousands fished onto a boat, chopped up then thrown back alive, but without fins, is enough for anyone to feel bad.

Because they have gills fish must swim to stay alive. They need fins to swim. So without fins, sharks float in the water slowly suffocating while in a pain similar to that of a human being losing an ear.

That was about three years ago. When I still was quite afraid of sharks. I faced that fear in Australia and definitely conquered it while doing my divemaster in Malapascua, Philippines for five weeks just before visiting Hong Kong.

The main reason people visit Malapascua is to see thresher sharks. One of the only places in the world these sharks can be seen , the calm sharks appear out of the blue and gracefully move around small groups of divers, if they’re lucky. A sighting is pretty likely, but not guaranteed. I did not see a thresher shark until about a week into my stay on Malapascua.

A thresher shark swims at Kemod Shoal, a dive site in Malapascua. Photo by Mark Pacey

A thresher shark swims at Kemod Shoal, a dive site in Malapascua. Photo by Mark Pacey

Stretching up to six meters in length, one might think it would be a scary experience, but really it’s quite peaceful, even breathtaking. I was hooked after my first time. I woke up at 5 a.m. almost every day for the next two weeks after that to get another chance to see the beautiful creature again.

Going from that, to walking down Dried Seafood Street in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong where store after store sells thousands of dried up shark fins was quite the contrast. I actually felt sick seeing how many places sell shark fins. I always thought it was China’s dirty little secret, but no. There it was in bulk at discount prices.

What makes it worse is that according to the documentary Sharkwater, shark fin doesn’t even taste like anything. It’s just an addition in what is essentially a broth-based soup.

Dried shark fins for sale on Dried Seafood Street in Hong Kong. Photo by Bobbi Hitchon

Dried shark fins for sale on Dried Seafood Street in Hong Kong. Photo by Bobbi Hitchon

Still some people don’t care about the issue, because they think “sharks are mean and kill people.” It’s a well-known fact that you’re more likely to die in a car accident or plane crash than by a shark. You’re even more likely to be attacked by another person than a shark. So does that make it okay to eat people?

Whether you care for sharks or not, you should be worried about basic livelihood, which is affected by whether or not sharks exist. Part of the food chain for millions of years, if sharks go the entire ecosystem will be affected.

“70% of the world’s oxygen comes from plankton in the oceans, which is part of the food web that sharks inherently control as the biggest predators.”-Rob Stewart, filmmaker behind Sharkwater.

Very little is being done to address the problem, because sharks are a hard animal to sell. But with 100 million sharks being killed for their fins annually (according to Sharkwater), it’s definitely an issue that should receive more attention. Visit www.sharkwater.com to see what you can do.


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