What comes to your mind when I say shark?
A massive killing machine? Destructive beast? Heartless predator? Or, that sensational Baby Shark song?
Well, that’s how people interpret the main character in Steven Spielberg’s thriller film – Jaws. But let me tell you, sharks are a seriously misunderstood creature roaming the oceans. Perhaps, not for too long since they are being killed massively each year for their fins.
Do you know that Malaysia is ranked as the world’s 9th largest producer of shark products and 3rd largest importer in volume terms? (Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, State of the Global Market for Shark Products report, 2015).
Why humans are killing the sharks?
Over the years, sharks are facing increasing risk of extinction due to various reasons, mainly for food through the harvesting of their fins. Shark fins are much more valuable in the market than shark meat. This is due to the high demand for shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese delicacy still being served at restaurants and other occasions such as weddings, reunion dinners, etc.
Apart from their fins, accidental bycatch as well as widespread usage in cosmetic and health supplements are among other threats.
How sharks are being killed?
The process is called shark finning. Sharks have their fins cut off while they are still alive, and its remaining bodies are dumped back into the ocean. As the ill-fated sharks couldn’t swim without their fins, they eventually suffocate and bleed to death.
Tragically, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed in this manner, every year around the world.
Why is it a big deal?
Some people assume that sharks are dangerous and it’s okay to kill them. Guess what, it’s utterly WRONG!
Sharks are classified as apex predators at the top of the marine food chain. Without them, the populations of commercial and non-commercial fish will be disrupted. In other words, sharks help to stabilize the marine ecosystem. They also eat old and sick fishes, preventing diseases from spreading.
Not only that, restaurant owners are more than willing to pay big sums of money for the fins to make huge profits out of the poor creature. This leads to illegal fishing and overfishing activities worldwide.
Contrary to popular belief, and as a matter of fact – it’s the humans who are killing more sharks annually, not the other way around!
My Fin My Life Campaign
In 2016, I was given the opportunity to volunteer for the “My Fin My Life” campaign organized by WWF Malaysia, in collaboration with Reef Check Malaysia, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Selangor, Branch Marine Group, Shark Savers and Scuba Schools International (SSI).
The campaign was aimed at gathering 1 million pledges to convince the public, hotels and restaurants to stop serving and consuming shark fin soup.
Throughout my experience in this effort, I am saddened by how ignorant Malaysians are when it comes to protecting and preserving our biodiversity. Some people pledged empty heartedly and it seems so obvious that they aren’t ready to commit in making changes. Some probably have forgotten about the pledge after they went back home.
It is common knowledge that Malaysians often take things for granted when it comes to environmental responsibilities. We let organizations like WWF to deal with all the damages we have contributed without any guilt nor remorse. This is the current pickle we are in. Our failures to master the rudiments of managing natural resources is depleting some critical species to dangerously low numbers. We are so skewed away from the fact that it is our responsibility to act for the well-being of our planet. Often, the solution can be so simple.
What can we do to save the sharks?
Firstly, we must make consciously ethical seafood choices. Say no to shark fin soup. Go for sustainable options. Besides that, we can involve ourselves in shark protection projects or campaigns around us to show our support. Pass the message around to family and friends. If we can band together and spread the awareness, we can make a big difference to the sharks in the oceans.
Let’s save this magnificent marine life from going down the path of extinction because of our ignorance. Remember, a fin-less meal is much better than a shark-less ocean.