Hope you guys'd enjoy it, and start making a difference !! :D
I still remember that, there was a boy in an elementary school 15 years ago, he'd always insist his mother to take him to the seafood section in the supermarkets after school to check out the daily catches, which he always looked for shark. In that time there were many of the baby scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna leweni) and blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanoptera) laying around on the ice almost everyday. He didn't know anything about them at all, all he thought was, they are the most beautiful and coolest animals that he ever seen. The spoiled kid begged his mother to bought them home, keeping them in the freezer, examining and playing with them, when he got back home from the boring day at school. 10 years later, that twisted kid grew up, started SCUBA diving, and finally beheld the most spectacular moment in his life, the moment when he saw the silhouette of the vortex of uncountable sharks against the shimmering sunlight at the surface, in the clear blue water of the Similan islands. From that moment he has gotten in love with them (not in the beastialty way), studied all the marine courses in the college, looked for articles about them to read in google, went diving every college holiday, however, he has never seen the sight, that changed his life once again, and now he's sitting in front of the crappy 5 years old laptop thinking, that he might not be able to witness that moment again forever, which is most likely to be true.
In the past 2-3 decades, the population of all sharks species were decimated to average 25% of their original number, and many of them has reduced to only 5-10%, as a result from bycatch, or target fishery for their fins, to feed the growing demand of a billion dollars industry, the shark fins business, with the economic growth of a new superpower, China. Chinese culture has long given a high value of the delicacy, shark fin's soup, since the ancient time. A dish that only served to the emperor and the elites, due to the rareness, and the health benefits that were believed in the Chinese medicine. According to their belief, shark fins promote the better functioning of lung and kidney, improve vital energy (Qi), nourishing the blood, rejuvenating the whole body, and has anti-aging property, for cultural aspect, serving shark fin soup means giving respects to the guests and signify the social status, which make it a popular dish for many occasion, such as Wedding. With the booming of China's economic growth in this decade, a lot more people could afford shark fin's soup, which boosted up the demands, thus increase the hunt for the fins, causing the sharks population to keep on dropping.
However, from the scientific point of view, supported by many researches, consuming shark fin's soup has the opposite effect from what it was believed to be! Large predator with long lifespan such as Shark, or Dolphins, are well known to accumulate various heavy metals (not the music genre), and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in their tissues, which including the collagen tissues in the fins. The pollutants including Mercury (Hg), Cadmium (Cd), Lead (Pb), and also DDT, which according to various researches, the concentrations of these pollutants are exceed the standard for consumption. Moreover there are scientific studies discovered various strains of bacteria with antibiotic resistance, which is a bit risky for consumption, wouldn't you agree? You may wonder why these animals can collect these pollutants like a swimming bag of poisons, it's the results from the heavy industrial dumping of the pollutants in the last 50 years (shame on us), these pollutants kept moving up the food chain , building up along the trophic level (bioaccumulation), and lastly ended up in the apex predator, the shark. So if you imagine how many contaminated fish have they eaten up until they got caught, and ended up in the bowl of soup. You could probably get some rough idea, how contaminate it is, and would you still think that it would give you longevity? For just only mercury poisoning, it could cause blindness, loss of hearing, loss of motor function, seizure, convulsions, alzheimer’s disease, parkinson’s diseasse, death of fetus, premature birth, impotency, and variety of cancers of your choices. If just the health effects of mercury poisoning still haven't put you off from eating the shark's fin soup, I'd encourages you to get your body checked up, and see if you have already eaten the contaminated soup too much already.
*Currently we are planning to do another analysis for pollutants in shark fin's here in Thailand, by Mahidol University, so keep on checking our site to see the results.*
Apart from the various health effects from the fins itself, the shark finning industry, also destroying the balance and, could lead to the collapse of marine ecosystems (sounded a bit apocalyptic, but... it's really apocalyptic, mates). Shark has been the guardian of the aquatic realm before the era of dinosaur, and undergone little evolution since that time, because they are so perfect for their role, to be the apex predator. To be the apex predator doesn't mean that they are killing everything in their sight (like what we, human do). They keep the prey's population, down the trophic level in check, eating the weak or sick individuals, thus maintain the healthy gene pool among the prey's population, with the concept of survival of the fittest. By keeping the balance of their prey's population, this would ensure the stability of the ecosystems. If the apex predator were to be removed (most likely extincted), the lower level predator could wreck havoc, and possibly decimate the populations of the organisms under the trophic level, and cause a huge negative impact to the producers, the phytoplankton, which recycle a huge sums of Carbondioxide (CO2) in the Earth's atmosphere, and releases Oxygen (O2), If we lose the phytoplankton, the Carbon cycle would collapse, and every living thing will die (Except they are wearing a spacesuit).
With the current situation for the sharks, with has really low population left, 25% left average from over 400 species, and 5-10% for many of them. Shark is currently the group of animals that are the most hunted, and endangered in the World. With the rate of 104,000,000 sharks killed per year, and 78,000,000 killed solely for their fins. Shark population could not cope with the present rate of killing, with their slow reproduction rate. Many species of sharks that were taken, usually Carcharhiniforms (Requiem Sharks) has long gestation periods, around 10 months, and giving birth to less than a dozen juveniles, apart from this fact, they need some times to recover from nutrients loss from gestation, before being able to giving birth again, which is very common for the apex predator, since naturally nothing else will hunt them. But adding us, human to the equation, the shark could not cope with it, and resulting in they are being driven to the verge of extinction. Remember the Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna leweni) that I mentioned, or the Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) that roams in Thai water? Now they are endangered species, the same as Bengal Tiger, or Elephant, and deserve the same treatment, and respect for their existence as the land animals. Don't let the propaganda in the media fools you, according to the statistic, there are 5 people die from shark attack, while there were average 90 people die from lightning strikes in the USA each years, the relative risk from getting killed by a shark is even less than getting killed by a falling coconut. 5 deaths comparing to 104,000,000, combine with the facts that most of you are already know, they cut shark's fin , and dump their body back into to the water while they are still alive, it's not a heroic revenge, it's not fishing, it's just a freaking genocide.
We could not predict what will happen to these animals in the future, but surely we could at least be aware and try to make a change, to ensure their existence, and allow them to share this little planet with us. By acknowledging the facts, by spreading the words to your friends, by stop eating the brutal and contaminate dish, by participate in our Shark Watch campaigns, it somehow going to make a difference. They might continue protecting our ocean, like what they always do for the past 400 million years, we might put an end to the consumption of the pollutants laden foods, or in the worst case, it might be too late, and we might not be able to save them from extinction at all, but at least we know that we have already try to save other living thing that share the same little planet with us, and be grateful to what they have done, which shaped the Earth to be the way it is today. Lastly I hope that one day you all would get to see the same amazing sight that would always be in my memory forever.
Sirachai (Shin) Arunrugstichai
- Mahidol University International College
- Save Koh Tao
- Shark Watch