I don’t know exactly how I became obsessed with sharks, but as far back as I can remember, I have always loved them. In high school, my best friend and I loved to watch shark documentaries and I remember thinking at the time that sharks were the scariest thing ever, but yet beautiful and mysterious at the same time. It wasn’t until the first time I went to Thailand and saw black tip reef sharks whilst snorkeling that my fascination for sharks and the ocean really grew. Before that, I would never have even considered scuba diving – it was my worst nightmare. Being in open water and in a claustrophobic environment was not something I ever wanted to experience. Seeing those sharks though made me want to get even closer to them and explore more of the ocean. I knew that if I wanted to do that I would have to learn to dive. So I kind of have sharks to thank for making me overcome my fear of scuba diving.
Seeing up close how peaceful and magnificent they are has just made me love and admire them even more. I know there are thousands of shark lovers out there but I’ve only met a handful of people who share this some love and admiration for them. So, I’m writing this in the hope that other people will realise how much we need to protect them and how important they are to us.
When I first moved to Hong Kong, I didn’t even know people there ate shark fin soup. In my deluded mind, I thought because they didn’t eat dogs, then they wouldn’t eat sharks. How wrong I was! It wasn’t until after 4 months of living in Hong Kong I found out. Luckily for me, my friend had just gotten a job at Hong Kong Shark Foundation so I was able to become a volunteer easily. I really had no idea just how much trouble sharks where in.
The following info is just some of what I learnt from my time there:
🦈 Sharks are older than dinosaurs, they have been around for 400 million years and survived 5 mass extinctions.
🦈 There are over 500 species of sharks and in the last 30 years some species have declined by 99%. Over one third of shark species are now threatened with extinction.
🦈 In 2015, only 6 people were killed by sharks. Every year on average, 100 million sharks are killed by humans. The number could even be as high as 273 million.
🦈 Sharks are being killed as a result of by-catch, illegal fishing, and the demand for shark fin soup.
🦈 50% of the world’s shark fins are imported directly into Hong Kong and from there most are sent on to supply the largest market of shark fin in Mainland China.
🦈Years ago, eating shark fin in China was seen as a symbol of wealth and status, but now due to improved fishing techniques and the rise of wealth in Asia, it has become much more affordable. It is most commonly offered at wedding banquets.
🦈 Shark fin itself actually has no taste and no health benefits. It’s also been found to contain heavy metals, like mercury.
🦈Shark meat is consumed all over the world. You may not even know you are eating it as it commonly re-named as a type of fish.
🦈 Shark skin is also used to make leather which has become popular recently in the fashion world.
🦈 Oil from a shark’s liver (squalene) can also be found in certain energy drinks, lotions, deodorants, make-up, conditioner, pet supplements and dog chew toys.
🦈Squalene can also be sold in a pill form as a supplement. There are myths that it helps to boost the immune system; heal wounds; help with digestive problems; and prevent cancer, HIV and the flu. There is no medical evidence to show that shark oil does help with any of these things, and it has recently been proven that sharks in fact do get cancer.
Although I don’t believe in the killing of any animal, the practice of shark fining is something I find extremely disturbing. Due to the lack of space on the boat, fishermen often cut the fins off live sharks and throw them back overboard. The sharks slowly drown, bleed to death or get eaten alive by other fish. Not only is this practice extremely unethical, but it’s extremely wasteful too, as only 5% of the shark’s body is used. Some countries have implemented laws where the whole shark has to be brought back with all its fins attached, but there is little to no way of knowing what happens at sea as it is impossible to police all of the oceans.
In this 3 min clip of clip from Gordon Ramsay: Shark Bait, you can see what the cruel process of shark finning looks like.
The natural number of sharks in the ocean is meant to be low compared to other fish, as they are at the top of the food chain. Since they amount of sharks being killed is so high, it is impossible for them to be able to reproduce enough to replenish this loss. Lots of sharks are killed before they even reach sexual maturity. For some species it can take between 15-20 years to reach reproductive age. Sharks don’t always reproduce every year either, some have a resting stage of 1-2 years. Not only that, but sharks don’t always give birth in high numbers, the big eye thresher shark, for example, only has 2 pups at a time. Sharks have long pregnancies too, ranging from 9-12 months and incredibly, the spiny dogfish has the longest gestation period of any animal, which is 22 months! So the fact that many of these sharks are killed before they can produce offspring shows how unsustainable the shark fining industry is. Even if it were sustainable, it’s still not morally right to kill an innocent animal for our own pleasure.
“Just because something is legal, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is either moral, ethical or sustainable.” – Alex Hofford, Wildlife Campaigner, WildAid
Why We Need To Save Sharks
Since sharks are an apex predator of the oceans – they are a crucial part of the marine food chain. If they were to be removed, the whole food chain would fall apart. One way they keep ocean ecosystems healthy is by eating slower, older and sick fish. By removing the sick fish, it helps prevent the spread of disease. By removing the slower fish, it means that there are more stronger and healthier fish left to reproduce, resulting in bigger amounts of healthier fish in the ocean.
Coral reefs are being destroyed in many ways such as by bleaching (primarily due to global warming), poison fishing, pollution and sedimentation. Now studies have shown that the removal of sharks also effects the life in coral reefs. This study of reefs in North West Australia shows that reefs with sharks are much healthier and abundant than reefs without them. If sharks are removed from coral reef ecosystems, the number of smaller predators would increase, causing more herbivorous fish that clean the coral to be eaten. If there are no herbivores fish to eat the coral, the coral would soon be over run with algae and all life on the reef would perish.
There is also a surprising link between sharks and climate change too. A study published in 2015 states that there is “sufficient evidence to suggest that intact predator populations are critical to maintaining or growing reserves of blue carbon.” Blue Carbon areas such as mangroves, salt marshes and places with sea grass store carbon at a rate 40 times faster than tropical rainforests. Animals like turtles, crabs and stingrays become more abundant when sharks are removed from the ecosystem, causing more of these carbon filled plants to be eaten. The ancient carbon that is stored in these plants is released into the atmosphere when they are eaten. Scientists have estimated that if only 1% of the carbon storing vegetation is lost, 460 million tons of carbon would be released every year, which is the equivalent of 97 million car emissions.
“Sharks are beautiful animals, and if you’re lucky enough to see lots of them, that means that you’re in a healthy ocean. You should be afraid if you are in the ocean and don’t see sharks.” – Sylvia Earle, Marine Biologist
Since the removal of sharks could result in a collapse of the ocean’s ecosystems and since a whopping 70% of the planet’s oxygen comes from the ocean, sharks are definitely not an animal that we should be messing with. If we continue fishing the oceans at this rate, it is predicted that by 2048 there will be no fish left in the ocean and if there is no fish, there is no life on earth.
The first thing we can do to help to save sharks is to not purchase or consume any shark products. Always check the labels on any beauty products you buy to make sure they don’t contain squalene and encourage others to do the same. You can also take the I’m Finished With Fins pledge, which shows you are in support of ending the shark fin trade.
As millions of sharks are also killed every year as by-catch from the fishing industry, we can help stop this is by not consuming any seafood. Since animal agriculture is responsible for creating more than 500 dead zones in the ocean and is the leading cause of species extinction, the number one thing we can do to help save them is by not consuming any animals or any animal products. You can sign up for the 22 day vegan challenge and get a free starter kit here.
It’s also important that we don’t fund the captivity of sharks by going to places such as Seaworld, or aquariums – basically anywhere that holds sharks and other marine animals captive. Sharks are very intelligent, and being in an unusual environment like an aquarium causes them a great deal of stress. They aren’t able to follow their natural migration patterns and swim for hundreds of miles like they would if they were free. As sharks are sensitive animals, the noises loud noises in the aquariums can cause them to become confused, and lots of sharks sustain nose injuries from banging into the glass. Many sharks are also solitary animals so it is extremely cruel to force them to live constantly among other fish. Sharks also don’t live as long in captivity as they would naturally in the wild.
If you would like to learn more about sharks please visit sites such as Shark Savers, Wild Aid, Hong Kong Shark Foundation, Sharks World and Shark Angels. You can also check out Sharkwater (above) which is an interesting documentary about the filmmaker Rob Stewart’s mission to help save the world’s sharks. He join’s the amazing Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and exposes the exploitation and corruption in the shark fining industry. Racing Extinction is also another great documentary that uncovers the global threat to sharks and other endangered species.