One thing that I cannot dispute is that the history of shark finning is very interesting. More specifically, shark fin soup is a dish with a storied tradition, dating back to 10th century China. Much like turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, shark fin soup is a mainstay of several Chinese celebrations, so I can understand why there has been resistance to its ban. That being considered, the negative impact of shark finning on the environment is something that simply cannot be overlooked. There were 3 environmental impacts of shark finning that specifically stood out to me as I completed my research:
Sharks Face Extinction
The most obvious ecological impact of the shark fin trade is the death of tens of millions of sharks each year. Researchers estimate that anywhere from 80 to 100 million sharks lose their lives when their fins are removed to make the East Asian delicacy. Unfortunately, the fins used in the dish are difficult to identify, which in turn makes accurate estimates of annual shark fatality difficult. Further, without the body of the shark, it is nearly impossible to identify from which species of shark the fins come without a DNA test, meaning that millions of endangered shark species are likely killed in order to make shark fin soup.
Recent studies suggest that the blue shark is the species most commonly found in the fin trade. While the blue shark is considered one of the most biologically productive species, finning is responsible for the death of nearly 20 million of the species annually, resulting in a major population decline. It is quite clear then that shark finning has a direct impact on shark populations and is likely responsible for the massive levels of shark endangerment in recent years.
There are 141 species of shark currently threatened with extinction, and if the rate of animal exploitation continues to increase, the number of endangered species will only continue to grow. SharkSavers.org lists 14 species of endangered sharks commonly found in shark fin soup:
The 14 Endangered Species of Shark Commonly Found in Shark Fin Soup:
- The Blue Shark
- Great Hammerhead Shark
- Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
- Smooth Hammerhead
- Silky Shark
- Oceanic Whitetip Shark
- Common Thresher Shark
- Pelagic Thresher Shark
- Bigeye Thresher Shark
- Sandbark Shark
- Shortfin Mako Shark
- Bull Shark
- Dusky Shark
- Tiger Shark
Beyond the drastic annual decrease in global shark population, the practice of shark finning is also thought to be responsible for an overall decrease in the physical size of sharks worldwide. According to SharkSavers.org, “Surveys done comparing sharks from the 1950s and the 1990s shows shark size to be significantly smaller, 50% or more in some species, with a lack of large individuals suggesting that over-exploitation has left few mature sharks in these populations.” Additionally, some shark species take decades to mature. The organization Stop Shark Finning suggests that, “Sharks take anything from 7 to over 20 years to reach maturity, meaning that it takes populations a long time to recover; the current demand for their fins makes it impossible for populations to return to previous levels.” This, undoubtedly, has a major impact on several marine ecosystems and is just another negative side effect of the shark fin trade.
Sharks are “apex” predators, meaning that they reside at the top of their food chain with little or no predators of their own. Apex predators are essential to the health of their ecosystems, and they greatly affect their prey species’ population dynamics. Thus, as tens of millions of sharks are killed each year, the marine ecosystems of which they are a major part are severely damaged. Humane Society International notes that, “Predictive modeling has shown that other fish, even those that are the normal prey of sharks, could experience total population crashes.” They further explain that population changes within the ecosystem have resulted in fishery closures around the globe. Science Daily claims that the damage done to ecosystems due to shark finning “may be humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature.” Thus, shark finning has a direct effect on countless marine species, and has the potential to drastically change ecosystems that are essential to our environment.
While it is difficult for a Canadian-American girl who grew up in Northern Indiana to fully understand the tradition surrounding shark fin soup, it is clear to me that the ecological impacts of shark finning cannot be overlooked. Sharks are an absolutely essential part of our environment. Though many people only focus on sharks for one week during the summer, shark finning is something that affects each and every member of this planet. As such, I’m calling each of you to take a stand and speak out against shark finning. If you see shark fin soup on the menu at a restaurant, report it to the Animal Welfare Institute. Share this article. Do your own research on the issue. Any step can help.
Tune in next week for the third and final installment in our series on shark fin soup. In it, I discuss the domestic and international politics of shark finning.