It seems staggering, but based on the most recent figures from Marine Policy, who say 100million sharks are being killed every year, it would appear that this daily rate of slaughter is indeed the case.
The recent Marine Policy report stated that the exact number of sharks killed could actually be anywhere between 63 million and 273 million, with the 100 million figure being the best estimate. But even at the lowest estimate, it has created a huge problem.
Unsurprisingly, those rates of killing far exceed the rate at which the sharks can repopulate and many are being killed before they reach adulthood. Some species of shark live an average life-span of 15 years, while others can live for up to 100 years, but at the current levels of fishing they’re becoming hugely threatened. At present rates, between 6.4 and 7.9 percent of all existing sharks are being killed each year.
English shark protection organisation Shark Trust believes around 73 million sharks are killed for finning alone (targeted hunt for fins) and this is the major issue that needs to be addressed. China consumes 95 percent of the world’s shark fin production and Hong Kong is the main destination for shark fins harvested from elsewhere, satiating the Chinese demand.
Shark fin soup is also available in Dubai and until recently sharks were openly on sale at the Deira Fish market (pictured above from several years ago) including some species that the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists as threatened. While people were understandably complaining about keeping sharks in small aquarium at hotels, there was a much bigger issue that needed addressing in other parts of the city.
At a 2012 Dubai conference hosted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the UAE ministry said most of the 500 metric tonnes of shark fins exported to Hong Kong annually from the UAE comprised imported fins from other countries in the region. In February of this year, however, seven Arab countries (including the UAE) signed up to an agreement to protect migrating sharks in Middle Eastern waters from the illegal trade.
It’s a positive move that should go some way to providing safer waters for sharks to exist, despite the notion that sharks are not something you want in your coastal waters.
In contrast to the slaughter of sharks at the hands of humans, throughout the whole of 2011 (according to National Geographic) there were only 11 people worldwide killed by sharks. And it is believed that in most cases shark attacks are a case of mistaken identity, with the sharks (who usually attack from below) mistaking humans, often on surf boards, for seals.
Peter Benchley once said that if he knew his novel Jaws would have demonised the great white in the way that it has, he wouldn’t have written the book in the first place. Although his pulp novel, and the subsequent film, is clearly not the reason for sharks being killed, we’ve now reached a state where great white sharks (the species from Jaws) are more endangered than tigers. According to Dr Ronald O’Dor, senior scientist at the Washington-based Census of Marine Life, there are only around 3,500 great whites left in the oceans. As Elizabeth Wilson, manager of global shark conservation at Pew Charitable Trusts, pointed out: “We are now the predators”.
Scientists believe the earliest known sharks existed more than 450 million years ago, making them older than dinosaurs, but their numbers are rapidly falling and there are already 39 species of shark that are now threatened around the world. If you wish to help, boycott restaurants that serve shark fin soup (there are some in Dubai, phone and check first). Ultimately though, the fate of the shark is now in largely the hands of Chinese diners.
For Esquire magazine