I remember the first time I watched the movie Jaws. I was eight years old and living in the south of England at the time. The movie was on a school night and started at 9pm, not quite my bedtime. I wanted to watch, but my parents felt the movie would be too scary for an eight year old, who loves the water. We debated as one does at that age and I finally got to watch the movie in the spare bedroom on an old black and white set. My caring parents thought the lack of colour would relieve me of some of the horror…..hmm didn’t make a difference to those damn cellos!

Fast forward some thirty years and I’m still in love with the oceans, and maybe thanks to that old black and white television set I am not afraid of sharks. Quite the opposite, I am fascinated by them. The grace and elegance they possess as they glide by you on a dive bears little or no resemblance to the movie image. Yet they have this presence that awakens the innermost cells of your body, commanding the utmost of respect. Whether a lone cruiser or a schooling pack the fascination I have is the same every time. Now and again I hear the chelos in the back of my head, and I have an inner smile that warms the soul.

Thresher shark

Living in Hong Kong, I have daily reminders that these splendid predators are just another item on the menu of mankind. Walking through the streets of Sheung Wan my stomach knots up with disgust at the blatant disregard for such an ancient species. Sacks upon sacks of dried fins are piled up in shops with frosted glass fronts, bearing names such as “Honourable Shark Fin Company”, or “Lucky Fortune Shark Fin Ltd”. I look at each sack as a pack of sharks and wonder how it would look if they were all still attached to their bodies, long since dumped in some far off sea.

If the streets of Hong Kong weren’t bad enough, traveling further down the supply line, I visit an early morning fishing port in southern Sri Lanka. A similar sight can be seen daily in every small fishing port in Asia, if not the rest of the world. Landed with the daily catch are shark after shark. Some places just fins, here with the entire shark being un-ceremoniously thrown on the dockside. Catch of the day seemed to be Big Eye Thresher Sharks (Alopias superciliosus), a deep dwelling ocean pelagic that hunts closer to the surface at night, sadly lured too high by the full moon last night. A lesson learnt too late.

Sharks fin being cut off sharks fin soup

Threshers are everywhere, noticeable immediately by their distinct long tail that averages the same length as their body, and their large bulbous black eyes on the front of their short pointed nose. I had once travelled to Malapascua in the Philippines, one of the best destinations in the world to see Threshers in the wild. I spent six days diving there before I finally caught a brief glimpse of these shy creatures. Here in the market today were over fifty, lying in all states of barbaric carnage. I watch as fin after fin is hacked off and thrown into piles before ending up on a small set scales and sold to the highest bidder.

I witness these incredible creatures being hacked apart at the merciless hands of greedy men, and have to wonder, who is the terror of the deep? Annually over 100 million sharks meet a similar fate, some at least have time to die before they have their fins hacked off, others are dragged aboard long-liners mid-ocean, fins chopped off and then they’re thrown back, still alive to drown as they sink to the sea bed.

say no to sharks fin soup 100 Millions sharks are killed every year

All this to add just texture to a bowl of soup, not even taste! As I become more disgusted by what I see around me in the fishing market, I think back to the restaurants of Hong Kong and wonder what all the fuss is about. Upon my return, I get the rare opportunity to go into a Chinese kitchen and film the entire process. It was quite fascinating to see the amount of work that goes into the preparation. Preparation, that seemed intent on removing all traces of the fin coming from a shark. Soaking, steaming, soaking, steaming, marinating in chicken/beef/ham broth, steaming some more before being served in the bottom of a bowl, covered with a meat based broth laced with corn flour and MSG to thicken and topped off with dried cured ham to garnish. Then served to some insecure sucker who needs his/her ego flattered, for a small fortune. Quite amazing really.

However the more frightening issue is that there are more and more people becoming wealthy enough to afford this ego/image building dish. The increased demand means more fishermen in poorer nations see a glimmer of hope to earn some extra cash. The scary part is what will follow…

Stop eating Sharks fin soup shark water

As the shark (or apex predator) is removed, the oceans delicate balance is disrupted. The fish that are the natural prey of the shark now have no predator, and so over-populate before consuming all of it’s own natural prey, then starving itself out of existence. And so this continues down through the food chain, all the way down to the bottom where we find plankton.

Plankton produces 70% of the oxygen we breathe. If this goes, we go!

Therefore in this simplified version of how food chains work and the balance needed to maintain the health in the oceans, you can see how important the shark’s survival is linked to ours. The shark being dubbed ‘The Terror of the Deep’ could be quite appropriately named, as Sharks could kill us all, but not in the way they are portrayed in the movies.

Gary Stokes,
Oceanic Love.

What Can You Do?

*Request that your local restaurants stop serving shark’s fin soup, and if your invited to a wedding banquet, ask if they will be serving shark’s fin soup. If the answer is yes, then politely decline the invitation or ask if they will remove the dish from the menu.

2009 year of the shark

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