In many parts of the world, shark fin soup is considered a delicacy for the wealthy due to the fin’s exotic taste and unique texture. It is often served at wedding banquets and formal dinners to symbolise wealth and power. The practice of eating shark fin soup dates all the way back to the Ming Dynasty in China where it was only served to emperors and high-ranking officials and coveted by commoners. Today, shark fin soup is as common as chicken soup and many people throughout the world have eaten it.
However, few people remember the inhumane process of harvesting shark fins. Shark finning is the savage act of chopping off the shark’s fins and chucking its still-alive body into the ocean, leaving it to die a slow and painful death. The sharks frequently die of drowning and excessive blood loss. Their fins are then processed into thin, translucent strips and exported to the rest of the world in massive amounts to feed the market’s increasing demand for the delicacy.
Sharks, although known as one of the ocean’s top predators, are no match for humans. Humans are quickly replacing these deep-sea predators as the ocean’s top predator. Every year, humans kill millions of sharks to satiate their greed. Shark finning has caused an irreversible decline in the shark population. An estimated 60% to 70% of the shark population is already gone. Not only are sharks facing the imminent threat of extinction, but the surrounding marine ecosystem is negatively affected as well.
As sharks are apex predators, they play an important role in managing the equilibrium of the ecosystem. The presence of the shark population maintains the structure of the marine community and stabilises it. Sharks balance food webs and maintain a healthy prey population. They feed on sick and weak fish to prevent the spread of harmful diseases to other species. Removing the weaker species ensures a healthier population of fish.
Sharks are also known as a keystone species – a species on which other species in an ecosystem depend on – and removing them would hurt the ecosystem drastically. For instance, sharks prey on rays while the ray population feed on clams and other bivalves. Any major change to the population like a large scale culling of sharks causes an increase in the ray population. This sudden peak will in turn hurt the bivalve population. If we do nothing to stop it, the marine ecosystem might soon collapse and many other species might be gone sooner than we can imagine.
What we need to do now, as responsible citizens of the world, is to first educate ourselves on the negative effects of shark finning and then seek to educate others. We need to understand that if we do not do anything, our future generations may not be able to see sharks just as we are not able to see dodo birds anymore. As of now, 141 species of sharks are categorised as threatened with extinction which include the great hammerhead shark, bull shark and the tiger shark. Time is of the essence, so we need to act now before it is too late.
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