Sharks kill 12 people per year. In return, humans kill an estimated 100 million sharks every year. That’s THIS many per hour.
What is the shark fin trade?
Almost 73 million of these sharks have their fins are sold into the shark fin soup trade. This trade is driven primarily by a growing demand in Mainland China where the soup is seen as a ‘status dish’ consumed by businessmen and women as a statement of thriving business success and as a cultural dish at large celebrations such as weddings. The demand is so high that in some parts of Asia a pair of shark fins are valued at US$700 (~£450).
Why is the shark fin trade an issue?
Not only is this industry highly wasteful with up to 98% of the shark meat thrown back overboard in order to free up space for more fins but the practice is completely unsustainable with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declaring nearly a third of all open-ocean shark species as threatened.
Sharks are evil, right?
When people think of sharks the first image that pops into their head is the psychopathic, serial killer shark from Jaws. This great white of Hollywood fiction has now become the flagship for all sharks. The result is a universally skewed perception of the term shark which covers over 500 registered species, many of which are highly docile such as nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum), basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus), zebra sharks (Stegostoma fasciatum) and whale sharks (Rhincodon typus). In fact few sharks are dangerous to humans with only three species responsible for a two-digit number of fatal unprovoked attacks on humans since records began in 1580. These troublesome trio are great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas)and tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier).
Still, why should we care about protecting them?
Sharks are important apex predators in marine ecosystems. As such a change in the presence of sharks can have a drastic, cascading effect all the way down the food chain to a point at which the ecosystem itself becomes unproductive and the natural ecosystem services, such as food provision and water filtration, are lost. Sharks feed efficiently preying on the old, sick and slower fish in a population. Without the removal of these fish the occurrence and spread of catastrophic diseases would multiply, prey would become too populous causing irreparable damage to ecosystems, the gene pools of prey species would be weakened indefinitely and, without the regulation of prey behaviour through intimidation, prey species would overgraze vital habitats such as sea grass beds.
Thisinfographic made by the environmental organization WILDAIDneatly summarises the current status of the shark finning industry.