Sharks: Not That Tasty, Anyway

So stop eating them!

Not that you do, necessarily, but the Discovery Channel’s uber-popular Shark Week kicked off last night, and this year (its 27th!), producers are again using the series to highlight shark preservation. That got us thinking…

Here are the Cliffs Notes for what’s been going on with sharks and fin soup, as gleaned from the Discovery Channel, in case you’ve been out of the loop:

* Millions (a recent count was 73 million) of sharks are killed annually, primarily for their fins, primarily for shark fin soup.

* Shark fin soup is a delicacy in China, especially at weddings, and although chefs attempt substitutes, such as winter melon soup, it has yet to gain the same social cachet.

* Those who frown upon shark fin soup point to its lack of sustainability and the fact that “shark fin itself is virtually tasteless—the soup’s flavor relies heavily on chicken stock, ham and a generous pour of Chinese red vinegar.

* Only 30 of the over-400 shark species that exist have been heavily fished. Unfortunately, though, those 30 are what scientists refer to as “macro predators,” which are fairly slow to reproduce. This population can’t withstand heavy fishing pressure.

* Macro predators are important because they control, for example, the stingray population. Without sharks, stingray populations take off. (Stingrays enjoy scallops and clams just as much as you do. Lots of hungry stingrays means no scallops on your plate tonight.)

* The decline in shark populations has other serious consequences for our oceans. Healthy coral reefs and abundant populations of other fish are directly proportional to the presence of sharks.

* That said, Palau and the Maldives have been granting sharks protection. Honduras has banned the practice known as “shark finning,” putting 90,000 square miles of water  off-limits, as have officials in the Bahamas, which is home to a 243,000 square mile shark sanctuary. (Suggest not swimming there.)

* In July 2011, Hawaii’s law banning the sale, trade, possession, and distribution of shark fins went into effect. (Restaurants were given a little bit of time to sell or use any shark fin–procuring inventory, as you can see in the video above.) Maryland, California, Delaware, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, and New York have followed suit.

* If you do swim with them, you’re part of a valuable tourist attraction, one that brought 78 million dollars to the Bahamas’ economy in one year.

In summary: Sharks are worth more to humans alive than they are dead, anyways!  Shark conservation is gaining momentum, hooray! Learn more by watching the super awesome-tastic Shark Week.