Sharks: From Predator to Prey
Every year an estimated 100 million sharks are killed for the sole purpose of their fins. When sharks are caught, the fishermen who make the catch will often practice what is known as shark finning. In this practice, a fisherman will haul the shark onto the boat, cut off the shark’s fins, and toss the shark back into the water. Tossing the shark back into the water is mainly done due to the value of the shark fin being worth much more than the rest of the shark’s body. Shark fins are often used in the making of shark fin soup which gives the fins a value of up to $500 a pound, despite the fact that the shark fin doesn’t actually have any taste to it or add any nutritional value.
This practice is both inhumane and unsustainable to the shark population. When the shark’s fins are removed and they are tossed back into the water, the sharks are often still alive. However, without their fins, sharks are unable to swim properly and die in agony from either suffocation, blood loss, or predation. In addition to the animal cruelty that this practice entails, the use of shark finning is also unsustainable to the shark population. Moreover, it has caused the shark population to be in a rapid decline. Sharks grow slowly, take many years to mature, and over their lifetime produce relatively few offspring. So when these characteristics are combined, it makes it very difficult to balance the number of sharks that are killed annually for their fins. Many shark species are in decline due to shark finning, for there is a loss of about 6 to 8 percent of all sharks annually. At this rate, it cannot be sustained by populations that typically only increase by about 5 percent a year.
During the past decade, changes have started being made in an effort to conserve sharks around the world and help their populations increase. In Asia, where there was once a large demand for shark fin soup, public awareness of the cruel practice of shark finning and the devastating drops to the shark population has led to a decline in the demand for soup, and thus a decline in the price of shark fins. The Chinese government banned the serving of shark fin soup at official functions in 2013, multiple large hotels have taken shark fin soup off the menu and a growing list of airlines are refusing to transport shark fins in response to the new found knowledge of the animal cruelty. Since 1994, 22 countries have placed domestic regulations on shark finning. This can be attributed to both conservation efforts along with the economic benefits that shark ecotourism has brought. While there have been victories in some areas and some shark populations are beginning to increase in various parts of the world, there is still much more work that has to be done to help all shark populations rise to a healthy level.
Fairclough, Caty. “Shark Finning: Sharks Turned Prey.” Shark Finning: Sharks Turned Prey, Smithsonian Ocean, Aug. 2013, ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/sharks-rays/shark-finning-sharks-turned-prey.
Knowlton, Nancy, and Wendy Benchley. “The State of Sharks, 40 Years After Jaws.” The State of Sharks, 40 Years After Jaws, SmithsonianMag.com, 11 Aug. 2014, ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/sharks-rays/state-sharks-40-years-after-jaws.
“Shark Finning.” Humane Society International, www.hsi.org/issues/shark-finning/.
Rebecca Schurr, Intern at Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center
University of Delaware ’21