Shark Week is here again, and as in previous years, it concentrates on the predatory and aggressive behavior of sharks and the blood and gore that goes along with that part of their personalities. They are predators, and that’s what predators do. But there’s a lot more to the story, including the vital role they play in ocean ecosystems. There are more than 400 shark species in the world, and most of them don't threaten humans in any way.
In a strange way, Shark Week obscures a more terrible reality about sharks: the fact that they are in great jeopardy. Humans kill tens of millions of sharks per year, mainly for their fins but sometimes for their meat, cartilage, and other products. More than one-third of pelagic sharks now face extinction.
The HSUS and our global affiliate, Humane Society International, work to protect sharks from a multitude of threats. In the United States, we work to end their needless slaughter in big-money shark tournaments and we fight for stricter government controls of both commercial and recreational fishing to protect shark populations that are at risk of extinction.
Our Shark-Free Marina Initiative―a cooperative organized by the Pegasus Foundation, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, the Mote Marine Laboratory, and The HSUS, among others―aims to reduce shark mortality worldwide by discouraging the landing of sharks and encouraging catch-and-release of any sharks caught in sport fishing. More than 200 marinas and 140 marine businesses have joined the initiative, with more signing up each week.
Worldwide demand for shark fins, an Asian delicacy, fuels the cruel and unsustainable practice of shark finning―cutting the fins off a shark and throwing the animal overboard to die. The United States, Chile, Taiwan, Venezuela, and others have implemented strict finning bans. In Canada, nine municipalities have enacted bans on shark fins and the Canadian parliament has introduced federal legislation to address the country’s shark fin imports. HSI also advocates stronger protection measures for vulnerable shark species at international forums.
To reduce the U.S. market for imported fins, in 2010 we worked with Hawaii Sen. Clayton Hee to institute the first ban in the world on the possession and sale of shark fins. Today, the U.S. Pacific states and territories―including American Samoa, California, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington―are closed off to the fin trade. Legislation was also adopted in Illinois and has been, or will be debated in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia, and these measures have gained broad support from the Chinese American community.
Since the vast majority of global shark fin consumption takes place in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, HSI also works closely with local groups to promote awareness and support in the region. HSI’s work with The Jane Goodall Institute China educates the public, especially university students, on shark conservation and mobilizes their support. The Peninsula Hotels and The Shangri-La Hotels based in Hong Kong have stopped serving shark fin, and we’ve teamed up with the China Hotel Association and the China Entrepreneurs’ Club in a new “Shark Fin Free Initiative” encouraging more restaurants and hotels to remove shark fins from their menus. But the most encouraging development to date is China’s State Council’s announcement last month that the government of China will stop serving shark fins at official functions.
Sharks have roamed the oceans for more than 400 million years. They belong there, not in a soup bowl.