Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Humans Now the Top Predator in our Oceans

      Sharks have the reputation of being the oceans "top predators", until recently. As the human population continues to grow, other populations of animals are seeing a decrease. One animal that is experiencing the effects of human growth is the shark. Sharks, more specifically, are sought out for the fins. In a human practice called finning, many species of sharks have their fins cut off and are further thrown back into the ocean. Once thrown into the ocean, these sharks either starve to death, bleed to death, get eaten alive, or drown (if not in constant motion, gills cannot extract oxygen from the water). On top of this inhumane way of obtaining shark fins, they are getting killed at unsustainable levels.
      Shark finning takes place out at sea so the fisherman only have the fins to transport back to shore, since the rest of the body is deemed almost worthless. On top of this, all sharks, regardless of their species, age, or size, are being preyed upon by humans. This can cause issues as many of these species of sharks are not able to reproduce at a rate to combat their depletion. Shark finning is widespread and not usually monitored. It is a major delicacy in Asian regions, as shark fin soup holds cultural value. In an effort to curb the market for shark fin, the Chinese government began banning the serving of shark fin soup at official banquets in 2012. These efforts are only going so far, as it is seemingly hard to put an end to a practice that holds so much culture.

      Each year, humans kills an estimated 100 million sharks. This number can have devastating effects on the ecosystem. For example, the loss of the smooth hammerhead shark caused their prey, rays, to increase in population size. Rays now eat more scallops, clams, and other bivalves. Therefore, we are seeing a decrease in our bivalves, which have the ability to filter liters of ocean water each day. It is necessary in this sense, that we maintain our shark populations in order to maintain the integrity of our ecosystems. 
     In an effort to save our depleting shark populations, we can raise awareness about shark finning by educating people. Some people even admit that they never realized what impact their consumption had on the environment. Current progress has been made, such as the 2010 shark conservation act. This act states that all sharks caught in U.S waters must be brought to shore with fins still attached. Although some progress has been made in protecting depleting shark populations, more needs to be done to ensure the protection of these magnificent and important animals. 


  1. I have to agree with you when you say banning only goes so far. My history professor said "culture & tradition always trump the law." Shark fin soup being a high end dish will always be served since the dish has deep culture roots. Also, with the prey of the shark being more abundant, fisherman may not be able to fish for scallops, calms etc. This can put jobs for fishermen at risk and have a huge increase in sea-food prices making things even worse. If banning doesn't work (and 99% of the time it does not), then restrictions should be placed on shark fishing and the economic impacts should be well publicized.

  2. Here is another article to support your post:

    Apparently since October 2013, the demand for shark fin soup has dwindled with the help of Yao Ming, Chinese professional basketball player.

    The article also states that there is a high demand for ivory by the Chinese, which I didn't know about.

  3. Your mention that shark fishing is having a negative impact on bivalves is a nice example of a trophic cascade.