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Let's Give the Sharks a Break

Is there anything more beautiful than a magnificent animal in its own undisturbed habitat?

The shark probably has been maligned more so than any other creature. I must confess I enjoyed "JAWS" as much as anybody else. There have been countless such movies and stories that have always been a part of pop culture. These stories greatly exaggerate the menacing nature of sharks. Sharks are simply predators in the wild and must be respected because they are dangerous just like a grizzly bear or a wolf. At the same time domestic animals are far more likely than sharks to fatally attack a human being. In fact, farm animals are responsible for more deaths of human beings than sharks.

Sharks are the top predator in the ocean and are the police of the sea.  They contain the sizes of populations of other species to reasonable numbers and rid those same populations of the sick and other threats to that species. Sharks are absolutely vital to oceanic ecosystem.

We as human beings participate in the food chain as much as any animal. Maybe with the exception of salt, pretty much everything we eat was alive or was the product of something that was alive at one time.

Human beings, however, kill for many more reasons other than the need to survive and are often quite wasteful and cruel in the process.

Sharks are now being threatened because of all things, a tasteless soup. Tasteless it is in more ways than one. Humans kill millions of sharks every year because of the enormous demand for shark fins to make shark fin soup. Shark fin is flavorless and its cartilage is chewy. The populations of these wonderful and magnificent animals are being threatened for what amounts to some weird gelatin floating around in broth or something similar.

Shark fin soup, part of Chinese culture for centuries, was a delicacy reserved for the affluent on special occasions. For most of that time only the wealthy Chinese in such places as Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore consumed it. The impact on shark populations was minimal.

Now, however, the growing middle class in China and surrounding areas is negatively and severely impacting the fate of the shark. The demand for status in Chinese society has grown and along with it so has the appetite for serving and consuming shark fin soup as a symbol of that new status.

Shark fin soup can be expensive, for example, a bowl of imperial shark fin soup costs possibly upwards of $100. There are less expensive versions of the soup available which only add to the demand.

The reality of the merciless fishing of the shark and the subsequent brutal harvesting of the fins for profit far supersedes the fictional Hollywood depictions of shark attacks. Fishermen often catch the sharks by the dozens or even in the hundreds, saw off their fins and toss the sharks back into the water while the sharks are still alive. The helpless sharks anguish and thrash in the water in shock as they try to figure out what happened to them.

There is a growing awareness in China and Asia as well as other regions about the horrors of shark finning. The basketball star Yao Ming can be credited as being very helpful with encouraging anti-shark finning sentiment. Also to their credit Chinese business leaders, students, and journalists have been very active making shark fin soup no longer fashionable. Likewise a major help to the cause was an important governmental campaign against extravagance that has banned shark fin soup from official banquets. 

Progress around the world against shark finning seems to be slowly gaining momentum as it was recently announced that New Zealand is to ban shark finning in its waters within two years.

Shark finning is still, however, a serious and widespread problem. Needless to say there is also much abhorrent behavior against other animals as well such as whales, elephants, and countless other animals. I was very upset by recent pictures of a rhino that was hit with a tranquilizer dart so that poachers could saw off its horn. The badly injured animal convulsed in agony as rescuers tried to help it.  

Before I get described as an environmentalist or animal rights wacko I will say that the legal hunting of appropriate species in the food-gathering context is not only permissible but also necessary. I have lived in Ohio and have been through other states where deer populations are out of control at certain times. Hunting is necessary to protect the population of deer from disease and starvation. Most of the hunters I know are responsible and careful hunters. They do not maim animals and leave them to suffer. Many hunters will have their kills as a food supply in their basement freezers for months.

What is happening to the sharks for the sake of a quant social token of pride derived from soup is a gluttonous and greedy sinful crime against nature.

The next time you hear the scary shark music in a movie remember this; the real monsters are above the water. Let’s give the sharks a break. 

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