Art by Sacha Irick
Have you ever watched “Jaws”? The 1975 Steven Spielberg classic still brings chills down my spine despite the endless number of times I’ve watched it. I bet all of you can replay the score in your head right now. Now, imagine yourself swimming in the ocean ar a beautiful Caribbean beach. You’re relaxed, enjoying the warm water, when, suddenly, a person near you yells the word: “SHAAARKK!!” Would you be scared for your life?
Contrary to popular opinion, statistics show that humans are more threatening to sharks than the other way around.
Sharks kill 12 humans per year. Humans, on the other hand, kill 11,417 sharks per hour, according to a 2011 National Geographic study. What’s the main cause behind this barbaric, massive shark slaughter, you ask? It’s something several of you have probably heard of or even tasted before. Shark fin soup.
Originally a Chinese delicacy introduced by a Sung Dynasty emperor in 968 AD, shark fin soup has been a symbol of power and wealth reserved only for special occasions — like weddings — in Chinese culture. The fin soup only calls for shark fin, which is the shark’s most valuable body part; the rest of the shark’s body meat is extremely cheap and unpopular.
The process in which the fin is retrieved is completely unethical. Fishermen sail out to open sea, catch sharks, slice off their fins and throw the sharks’ finless bodies back into the water. Without their fins, sharks float defenselessly, sometimes for periods of over an hour, before they suffocate, bleed to death or, even worse, become the living prety of other creatures.
Finning is responsible for the slaughter of 88 to 100 million sharks each year, and, according to Animal Planet, at the rate we are killing sharks we will have eliminated the entire shark population in 10 to 20 years.
From a young age, I would hear stories about an island that belonged to my home country of Costa Rica. My father would always tell me about his adventure to Cocos Island in the ‘80s; it took him nearly three days to get there on a small, wobbly boat with a group of friends. The main purpose of the trip was to go scuba diving around the island’s shark-infested waters. Like me, he had grown up hearing about this mysterious island 350 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. The island’s history is a collection of colorful, mysterious stories and legends that date back to the first years of overseas exploration. According to legend, a multimillion dollar collection of precious gems, metals, stones and jewelry is buried somewhere on the island. Many historians have said the treasure was stolen from the Spanish by a group of pirates in the nineteenth century. Archaeologists have dedicated years of research to the discovery of this treasure and writers and historians have dedicated entire books to the Cocos Island hidden treasure mystery, but nobody has succeeded in finding the island’s hidden treasure yet.
After his short and venturesome visit to Cocos Island, my father came to the conclusion that many people have come to embrace after learning about the island’s ecological majesty: the treasure isn’t buried on the island; the treasure is the island itself. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and considered as one of the world’s most important shark aggregation centers, Costa Rica’s small Cocos Island has earned world-wide recognition for its beauty and diverse ecosystem.
Sadly, the practice of illegal finning has seriously threatened the island’s shark population in the last three decades. Last year, Costa Rica joined the list of more than 60 countries in the world that have completely banned all degrees of finning. California just recently passed a shark finning ban last July; many opposition groups have found support from the Obama administration and have already proposed federal regulations to revoke the ban.
Despite the efforts of several countries and states to ban the practice of shark finning and eliminate the shark fin soup market, the shark fin black market has grown to the point where shark fin soup still makes its way into the menus of restaurants and hotel chains across the nation. At least one person you know has seen or eaten shark fin soup, although, most likely, they did not know the harm they were causing to our environment by paying for shark fin. At this point, the best way to help the cause is by raising awareness of the issue and reporting the sale of shark fin to authorities. The Animal Welfare Institute offers an online service that takes your report and responds with a list of people and government agencies that you can contact in order to file your report.
Some shark populations have already decreased by 99 percent in the past 50 years, according to an Animal Planet study. Help eliminate this cruel, barbaric practice and inform your community about shark finning.
Sharks have been around for 450 million years; they even date back to the days before dinosaurs roamed the earth, yet humanity has the power to bring these prehistoric creatures to complete extinction in a short period of 20 years.
Do you want to be a part of that?
You can help stop shark finning and save these endangered species by signing this “no shark fin” pledge and encouraging your friends and family to do the same. Working together, we have the power to make a difference for sharks and the species that depend on them. Help stop needless cruelty and save endangered species: Say NO to shark fin products.
Follow Maria Prada on Twitter: @Chuzac
Follow Sacha Irick on Twitter: @GraphicSacha
As published in the Nov. 7 issue of the Pepperdine Graphic.