The Massacre of the World's Sharks for Soup

by Edward Dorson

The world's sharks are quickly vanishing and it's primarily driven by the demand for shark fins as an ingredient of a status symbol soup devoured throughout Asia at weddings and banquets. Approximately 73 to 100 million sharks are killed annually worldwide just for their fins. Some shark populations are already functionally extinct, having declined by as much as 99%. The outcome of further inaction will soon create a vast jellyfish soup, formally known as the ocean.

Sharks targeted by finners aren't taken whole; their valuable fins (up to $700 a kilo, at the time of this writing) are sliced off and the living mutilated shark is tossed back into the sea to sink and slowly die. It is despicably inhumane. The obliteration of 400 million years of evolution for some perceived social status with serving shark fin soup isn't just idiotic and cruel - it's tragic.

A healthy ocean depends on sharks. Scientific studies show that sharks, as apex predators, are vital to regulate species abundance and distribution necessary to maintain an intricate ecosystem full of diversity and life. The removal of sharks is causing devastating impacts with negative effects rebounding into the food chain, seagrass beds, and coral reefs.

Here's but one example of a "cascade" event that demonstrates how the elimination of sharks ruins both ecosystems and economies:

  • Eleven of the large shark species along the eastern US coast are now nearly gone. Without the sharks performing their ecological role as the predators of rays and skates (as well as some small shark species), their prey species have increased to ten times the normal number.

  • This, in turn, allowed the more abundant rays and skates to consume more bay scallops.

  • Once the bay scallops were depleted, the rays and skates expanded their range to devour clams and oysters, which are also rapidly disappearing.

  • Aside from being a food source for the rays and skates, these bivalves also strain out phytoplankton, which serves as a filtration system to help maintain water quality. Without enough scallops, clams and oysters, this filtration system breaks down.

  • Consequently, coastal areas suffer more toxic Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) and subsequent dead zones. The affected waters have toxins which are poisonous to bivalves, fish, birds, marine mammals, and people.

  • The HABs halt the fishing and shellfish industry and disrupts the tourist trade, which devastates a significant portion of the coastal economy.

A decades-long global moratorium on all fishing for endangered or threatened shark species, more vigilance curtailing massive shark bycatch, an end to shark tournaments, and a total ban on the barbaric practice of finning sharks at sea is now essential. Demand for shark fin soup must be restricted through educating restaurant owners and patrons. Where the appeal for common sense is ignored, legislation to ban the dish is necessary and any cultural excuse that enables species extinction must be denounced as totally irrational. As for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, only draconian measures such as those used against the killers of endangered terrestrial animals can make regulation meaningful.

The ecological, economical, and ethical consequences of an ocean without sharks must be voiced with a more resonating collective alarm - beyond research papers and manifestos that the public doesn't even know exist. Creative alternative media, powerful documentaries, and more inventive activism can amplify a dramatic portrait of the underworld aspect of the shark fin trade along with warnings of the havoc that will result from the continuing massacre. Such forceful exposure can grow to ultimately compel passage of no-nonsense international regulation and enforcement for the preservation of sharks.

Grotesque greed and indifference must be denied for the sake of the sharks and a planet that requires their continuing existence. All reasoning people must now reach their own tipping point that says no more to this senseless slaughter of the world's sharks.