This has been Shark Week on the Discovery channel. But unlike past years, when many of the programs sensationalized shark attacks and other dramatic behaviors and encounters with people, this year we are seeing more of a focus on science, with sharks being celebrated as a keystone species, playing vital roles in marine ecosystems.
Discovery’s shift is reflective of a larger change in attitude toward sharks here in the United States and in Asia. It cannot come soon enough given that sharks are exploited in extraordinary numbers – with people killing perhaps 100 million of them each year for shark products, mainly fins for soup. In fact, many shark species now face extinction because of cruel practices like shark finning.
Here in the United States, The HSUS has been hard at work to end this practice, and just last month, the state of Texas became the tenth state, and the first on the Gulf Coast, to prohibit the sale of shark fins. We’ll now ramp up our efforts in Rhode Island, as well as in Vermont and New Jersey where we have similar bills pending, when the legislatures come back from the summer break.
Outside of the United States, our global arm, Humane Society International, will continue to advocate for greater protection for vulnerable shark species at key international conventions, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Convention on Migratory Species and various Regional Fisheries Management Organizations. We will also press forward our ongoing public awareness campaigns in China and other parts of Asia to reduce demand for shark fins.
The two-decades-long popularity of Shark Week demonstrates how fascinated we are by these creatures. It is time, in a very intentional way, to translate that fascination into much-needed support for protection of a species that now faces an uncertain future.
P.S. There’s been much talk about shark attacks lately, with a very unusual series of incidents (fortunately, none fatal) in North Carolina. To put things in perspective, according to George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural Museum, in 2014, there were a total of 72 shark attacks worldwide – and given the billions of human forays into saltwater, that means that the prospect of a dangerous encounter is vanishingly small.