If you asked a large group of people to list their biggest fear, chances are high at least a few people would list sharks. It is easy to see why. After all, sharks are displayed throughout pop culture, from the cinematic classic Jaws to the lovable kid’s movie Finding Nemo, as vicious killers out for blood. In reality, sharks have a lot more reason to be scared of us than we ever do of them. While humans have a 1 in 3.7 million chance of being killed by a shark in their lifetime, we kill an estimated 100 million sharks every year.
Sharks are often killed so humans can use their parts for products, including shark fin soup, shark liver oil, and shark leather. Tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins alone every year often by the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning. Although this East Asian dish is associated with wealth and celebration, the truth behind the soup is far less glamorous. Sharks hunted for the soup are often finned—meaning their fins are cut off their body while they are still alive. Most shark meat is barely profitable, which means fisherman often throw the shark bodies back into the ocean. The kings of the ocean are left defenseless and barely mobile, sinking to the bottom of the ocean where they slowly suffocate, bleed to death, or are preyed on by other predators.
While demand for shark fins is the primary driver for massive shark slaughters, other shark products are more widely available than one would think. Shark meat can be found in supermarkets across the U.S. for human consumption or used in fertilizers, pet food, or livestock feed. Shark derivatives can be used for cosmetics, medicines and health supplements. Health and beauty products using shark liver oil can be found all over the internet and in common pharmacy products. Consuming shark poses health risks, and that is why the Food and Drug Administration warns pregnant women and young children to avoid it due to high mercury levels.
Sharks, though a negligible risk to humans, are an apex predator and play an essential role in maintaining a delicate balance in their marine ecosystems. Killing large numbers of sharks not only has huge ramifications for their population numbers, but their whole habitats as well.
Our continued decimation of sharks in the wild is simply unsustainable. Not only do we kill an astonishing number of sharks each year, sharks naturally have low reproductive rates, which makes them even more vulnerable to extinction. Virtually all large shark species are in a steep decline, and our time to act is dwindling.
The easiest and most immediate way to protect sharks is to refuse to buy products that contain shark parts. How you choose to spend your money is one of the most powerful weapons in the fight against animal suffering. The shark fin industry is a profitable business with shark fin soup clocking in at up to $100 a bowl. Help reduce demand for these products by saying “no” to anything made with shark parts.
If you are unsure, do not be afraid to ask questions. When in doubt, don’t risk it! Refuse to buy the product. And next time you think about sharks in the wild, don’t think of them chomping on a human’s leg but imagine them gliding through our expansive oceans, quietly keeping our underwater ecosystems in balance.
To learn more about our work on ending shark finning, please visit http://www.hsi.org/issues/shark_finning/
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