A few weeks ago I started watching a show on the National Geographic channel called Shark Men. It is a fascinating show featuring a group of men - both anglers and scientists - who actively hunt and catch sharks in order to study and learn from them. The technology used to capture these creatures is amazing and the precautions taken to prevent any harm or stress to come to them is incredible. I think most people are terrified of sharks but once you learn about them, realize how long they have been on earth, how smart they are and how endangered they have become, you begin to see them completely differently.
This got me to thinking about how many sharks are killed each year for sport or profit, particularly for the delicacy known as Shark Fin Soup, which is very popular in many Chinese restaurants. Shark fin soup is a sign of wealth and prosperity and with the middle class economy improving in China, it is becoming more popular than ever. The soup can cost up to $100 a bowl and can most often be found served at wedding celebrations so the hosts can impress their guests with their affluence.
Basically shark finning consists of the removal and retention of a shark fin. The shark is caught and hauled up on the boat. Most often it is still alive when the fin is removed and then it is thrown back in the water, where it is unable to swim so it just sinks to the bottom. It dies a slow painful death by either drowning, starvation or being eaten alive by other fish. Since the value of shark meat isn't that high, it isn't worth the time or expense it would take the fishermen to bring in the shark in its entirety.
It has been estimated that more than 100 million sharks are killed annually for their fins. These fins are used in soups or sold for medicinal purposes. The shark fin itself is tasteless but it provides a gelatinous bulk for the soup which is flavored with chicken, beef or fish stock. Because of the fin itself provides no flavor, it is easy to make imitation shark fin soup. This consists of mung bean vermicelli or gelatin which is cooked in chicken broth or, even healthier, made with Spaghetti Squash.
There have been no findings of shark fins providing any nutritional or medicinal value. It is true that sharks do not get cancer and if they could help us find a cure for cancer that would be amazing, but their fins or cartilage do not prevent cancer.
This cruel and unnecessary treatment of sharks needs to stop. You can help by visiting the Stop Shark Finning website. Here you can also find a link to which restaurants are still using shark fins so that you can avoid them. Feel free to call them and tell them the reason you aren't going to their restaurant is because of their use of shark fins. California is banning shark fin soup effective 2013 which is great because currently California has the largest demand for shark fins outside of Asia.
For those of you with kids, this National Geographic Readers: Sharks! book is great. Very educational for both adults and kids and will teach us not to be afraid of the creatures of the sea as they are usually more afraid of you than you of them!