Humans often have a history of conquering what we find scary in some seemingly perverse way of proving ourselves. However, in the midst of some recent incredibly cruel actions towards other predators, shark finning might very well be the worst. To keep these creatures alive, we need to figure out how can we stop shark finning.

What Is Shark Finning?

Image Courtesy of WildAid

Image Courtesy of WildAid

The numbers are staggering, but also somehow ignored. Reports of up to one hundred million sharks are brutally killed each year in a process known as finning. Making up just 3% of their body weight, the shark’s fins are cut off and the rest of the body is discarded while it’s still alive. Sinking helplessly to the ocean floor, the sharks then die from suffocation, starvation, or being eaten. No shark is safe from this treatment, as those who are hunting these creatures have no concern for its age, species, or size. While the villainizing of sharks has been challenged time and time again, people can still fail to realize that with practices like finning and the use of long lines (long fishing lines that can include thousands of hooks) we are the real dangerous ones. At the rate in which we are going, sharks could be extinct in the next few decades.

Why Are Sharks Important?

So we could lose a lot of sharks, what’s the big deal? A quick reminder of the food chain should correct any of this thinking. As important as all animals are to the ecosystem in which they live, apex predators perhaps hold the most weight. Hand in hand with the decrease of sharks, we’ll see an increase of medium-sized fish that sharks once preyed upon. Sharks eat medium-sized fish which eat smaller fish which eat algae. With more medium-sized fish trying to survive, there will be less smaller fish and thus a potentially unhealthy amount of algae in the oceans. Additionally, with no sharks, there will be more turtles and rays to eat coral, scallops, mussels, and clams. As these shellfish decline in numbers, so will the creatures which rely on them for food. Divers will also suffer; overfishing practices have all but decimated all places that serve shark fin soup. As with avoiding buying ivory from both rhinos and elephants, we know that we can wield a lot of power in our purchase decisions.

We don’t have an exact number on how many sharks there are in the wild which make it difficult to pinpoint how many are left but scientists predict that we have cut numbers from anywhere to 90-99%. Sharks have been around for 400 million years, longer than the dinosaurs. Anyone who has encountered them could speak about their extensively about their grace, beauty, and power. However, if we aren’t careful we could very well hunt them to extinction once and for all.

What Is Being Done About Shark Finning?

The shark finning issue is so bad that CITEs declared Oceanic White Tip, Atlantic Porbeagle and three species of Hammerhead Sharks endangered species in 2013. However, once the fins are separated from the shark and they are dried, it’s very difficult to determine whether it’s a protected species. In June of this year, congress introduced legislation to ban shark finning in the United States, but that might be enough. With the bulk of the consumption of sharks occurring outside of the US and offshore fishing virtually impossible to regulate, it’s necessary to ban the cruel practice completely.

Those compelled to action can go to SharkSavers, SeaShepherd, and Oceana.

Featured image courtesy of Nicholas Wang