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Shark Conservation Today

The Problem

Roughly 100 million sharks are killed by humans every year. The driving factor in almost half of these deaths are directly caused by the demand of shark fin soup in China and Vietnam. The high global mortality of sharks coupled with their slow reproduction rates and few pup clutches raises concern over the future of these animals. 

In the last half century oceanic sharks and rays have declined 71 percent, raising alarm in researchers in what they say is an 'unprecedented increase risk of extinction'.

Shark Finning

Shark finning is the act of removing the fins from a shark and then discarding the body into the ocean. Often times the shark are released back into the ocean alive, later dying of blood loss or suffocation because of their wounds and the inability to swim proficiently. The purpose of this is because it is easier to transport fins than it is the entire body. The act of shark finning violates the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

Health Caution to Shark Fins

Despite popular belief, shark fins don't add additional nutrition or flavour to shark fin soup. When measuring the mercury and methyl-mercury in dried shark fins at markets in Hong Kong, a researcher found the levels to be on average 6 to 10 times higher than what would be considered safe in Hong Kong.

Cosmetics and Sunscreen

Roughly three million sharks a year are killed in remote regions of the world to have their livers harvested. These deep sea sharks are killed to support a multimillion dollar industry - the cosmetic industry. Shark liver contains an oil high with antioxidant properties called squalene and is added into products such as sunscreen, skin creams, and lipsticks.

Squalene (or Squalane)

Squalene is a cholesterol found wide spread in the plant and animal kingdoms. Squalene is easily absorbed deep into the skin without leaving an oily residue and protects the skin from UV damage

Although squalene is highly concentrated in shark livers, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) can be traced to shark liver oil. One Japanese study found traces of PCB and PBDE,  in shark liver oil supplements, indicating that these organic pollutants may have entered Japanese deep sea waters.

For ethical and environmental reasons, alternative sources for squalene has been a great interest. Plant based sources of this cholesterol is found in olive oil, wheat germ, and amaranth seeds. Additionally olive-based squalene can be better quality and less expensive than shark-based squalene.

Why does this matter?

Dwindling population of shark species creates a ripple effect in the oceanic ecosystem. The decline in apex predatory sharks increases the number of their prey, which further alters the food chain. For example, the dramatic decrease in scalloped hammerheads led to an increase in their prey, the cownose ray. The increased population of rays preyed on bay scallops, dwindling their population. In 2004, the booming ray population destroyed a century old bay scallop fishery in North Carolina. Years of scarce harvests forced the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries to close the bay scallop fishing industry in 2006. Harvests were re-opened in 2009 with amendments added providing flexibility on opening fisheries as the bay scallop population recovers.

Additionally, shark-tourism can provide economic benefit to countries. Shark diving is increasingly gaining popularity, with over 500,000 tourists travelling to shark dive sites around 45 countries. In 2013, shark ecotourism brought in $314 million globally, with surges evident in the Caribbean and Australia. Reduction in shark numbers can cost the economic loss of millions in local tourism sectors.

Conservation today

US

As of 2000, shark finning is illegal in the United States. There is an active piece of law, H.R.737 - Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2019, that if enacted, will prohibit the sale, possession, and purchase of shark fins/shark fin products. 

UK

As of December 2020, the UK called for evidence on protecting endangered shark species. Even though shark finning has been abolished in the UK for nearly 20 years, International Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith explained that "the UK still imports shark fin products and therefore may still be inadvertently contributing to the practice". 

Company ban on shark-based squalene

Companies such as Ponds, Boots, Dove, Sunsilk, Vaseline, L’Oreal, Lancome, Soft & Dri, Clarins, Sisley and La Mer vowed to remove shark-based squalene from their products.

Ways to help

1. Boycott shark product​s

Avoid eating shark meat and shark meat soup. Make sure that cosmetics, sunscreens, and skin creams are vegan/vegetarian and cruelty free. Decreasing the demand for shark meat and shark based products will decrease the amount that are fished.

2. Reduce the amount of seafood eaten

Sharks can get entangled in fishing gear or accidentally caught in fishing nets. Fishermen cast large nets to catch schooling fish. As sharks are attracted to fish in distress, they often get tangled up in these nets. Either they are noticed and finned or they suffocate from the net.

3. Recycle and minimize waste

It is easy to see plastic pollution, with pictures of Great Pacific Garbage Patch (twice the size of Texas) circulating around the Pacific. Sharks eat fish which ingest plastic pellets. These pellets may block digestive tracts, damage stomach linings, or make sharks less hungry which leads to starvation.

4. Learn more about sharks

As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. Keep yourself up to date on shark conservation and learn more about the importance of sharks in the ecosystem. Know the local laws on shark finning and shark products. Know which cosmetics to avoid and which companies to use.

5. Write to your representative

Write to those who represents you. From the UK to the US, writing to local authority to bring awareness to this issue can help with the global issue.

6. Spread the love

The more people who know about the need for shark conservation, the more impactful. Share awareness on current shark conservation on social media. Talk to family members about shark facts. spread awareness of social media and to friends. Use shark facts or the fact there is a website dedicated to a toy shark as an ice breaker at parties. The opportunities to share the shark love are endless.

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"...Sharks are declining rapidly on a global scale because humans have replaced them as the ocean's top predators."

Smithsonian Institution’s Ocean Initiative

"Roughly three million sharks are killed every year for this one ingredient, and yet plant-based squalene not only exists—it’s often considered to be cheaper and of higher quality than the animal-based version."

Lush

"(shark finning) is an extraordinarily barbaric practice, and has been banned in the UK for nearly 20 years. But the UK still imports shark fin products and therefore may still be inadvertently contributing to the practice"

UK International Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith

"The mercury levels (in dried shark fins) are super high and, on average, 6 to 10 times higher than what a safe level of mercury would be considered in Hong Kong...these limits isn’t just a human health concern — it’s actually illegal."

Garcia Barcia (key researcher) and Forbes

In the Maldives, "Illegal fishing and reduced shark numbers can cause economic losses of US$24 million to the local dive tourism sector."

Zimmerhackel et al., 2018

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