Shark! | February 18, 2008
A few weeks ago we organised a public speaking workshop for the whole of Clearleft. A lovely chap called Alex Marshall hosted the workshop, and asked us all to give a 5 minute presentation to the rest of the team. Each session was video recorded and then played back to help us see what we’re doing well and what we’re doing badly.
I’ve been a dive instructor for several years, and have worked as a safety diver on shark feeds in the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve dived with all sorts of sharks in my time, from little white tip reef sharks in Thailand to schools of over 50 hammerheads in the South China seas. There is nothing like jumping in the water with a top level predator to get the heart racing.
However my first ever experience of a shark underwater was dead, laying on the bottom of the ocean with it’s fin cut off. Shark meat isn’t worth much, so it’s quite common to slice the fins off a living shark and then throw it back in the water to slowly drown. As such, I chose to do my talk on the terrible shark finning trade around the world.
Shark fin soup is increasing in popularity due to the economic success of China and other Asian countries. At $100 per bowl in some Hong Kong restaurants, shark fin soup is a sign of power and wealth. However it has little in the way of taste or nutritional value, with all the flavour coming from the chicken stock it’s cooked in. It’s really just there so you can say you’ve eaten shark.
The raising demand for shark fins is having a dramatic effect on the shark population. Many sharks don’t reproduce until the age of 15, so they are extremely sensitive to over fishing. As a top level predator, their disappearance may also have dramatic effects on other parts of the eco-system. There was evidence a few years back that the spiney lobster stocks around Tasmania had collapsed as a direct result of shark overfishing. With no sharks to keep octopus number in check, there was a massive bloom octopus numbers and they were eating all the lobsters.
The problem is that sharks have gained an undeserved reputation as killers, largely as a result of films like Jaws. In reality there are only around 5 unprovoked shark attacks per year, while around 50 million sharks are killed by the finning trade. Much of this trade domes from Europe, which supplied about a third of the fins used ion the Hong Kong shark trade. Spain is the worst culprit, but the UK also has pretty poor regulations.
People love dolphins because they are cute, but few people care about the fate of the shark.
This is anecdotal, but I personally witnessed the affect of overfishing sharks in as little as 3 months. When I was working on the island of Koh Phi-Phi back in 1999, the fishermen were catching fairly large specimens. However as the weeks progressed I noticed the catches getting smaller and smaller until one day, no more sharks were being caught. I went back to Thailand this time last year, and underwater sightings of sharks in the area had dropped to almost zero.
I noticed there was an article in the Times today on the fate of the worlds shark population. It seems that the Hammerhead shark, along with 8 other species, has been put on the ‘red list’ of endangered species. Apparently stocks of the scalloped hammerheads have fallen by 98 percent off the US Atlantic coast since 1970. It’s an interesting read, so I urge you to take a look.
We’re starting to see a resurgence of documentary making at the moment, and Sharkwater gets it’s UK release on the 22nd of February. The movie charts the film makers journey of discovery as he sets out to make an underwater shark adventure but ends up getting embroiled in the international finning trade. I’ll be going to see the movie and I hope you will to. In the meantime, please support the anti finning movement by avoiding any restaurants that sell shark fin soup.
Posted at February 18, 2008 2:10 PM