In 1975 when the movie Jaws was released to rave reviews, I had a 15-year-old budding scientific mind, and I watched the movie knowing that it was a fraud, attempting to manipulate us at the level of our base instincts. Today we’ll have a look at where that took us, and then find some great hope!

Then and there I realized I never wanted to be under a media spell like that again.

In Jaws, every scene violated the known scientific facts on sharks at the time. Even at that tender age, I remember having a sick feeling that sharks would irrationally become “Public Enemy Number One.”

Of course, as we know, now forty years later: they did.

So do we need sharks?

By the end of this article, the answer will astound you!

In my research for this article, I came across SharkSavers.org which recently merged with WildAid/Shark Savers, where some amazing people are turning public opinion of the Regal Shark!

Let’s start with a sign that recently came to my attention…

Today we’re going to go full circle on the topic of why Chatham Beach and the rest of us should love sharks, and we promise: when we share our findings, the research is going to floor you like it did us!

Who’s the Predator? The Truth About “Sharks vs. Humans”

As we all know, since the days of Jaws, sharks seem to have been cast as an entire species of vicious killers, lying in wait for the errant swimmer or surfer.

In reality, that conventional wisdom couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s start with biggest fact that rooted me right where I sat while digging into this subject:

100 million sharks are killed every year by people and only five people on the entire planet lose their lives to sharks.

And those 5? They are often foolish divers who bait sharks and swimmers who knowingly tempt fate.

Yet, fishing for and killing sharks has become such a popular sign of affluence and machismo in many parts of the world that the shark population off the eastern seaboard of the United States alone is down 50% to 90% in the last 40 years. 1

It’s not just the Atlantic coast of the U.S. either, mind you; the same statistics seem to ring true for most of the world, sadly. 2

Saving sharks? Why should we care?

Well, that’s the reason for our article today. We learned why from the three short videos we are going to share with you today. Let’s get to it!

First up, we have a video that sets the stage as to how sharks make the food chain work in the entire world’s ocean ecosystems. Bottom-line: if you take away the top predators, the whole ecosystem falls apart.

Here’s a video from YouTube channel It’s Okay to Be Smart, which digs deep in an entertaining way on every topic they explore. I had no idea the depths of this issue.

So, there’s only one issue pointing to why we should care: it turns out sharks are as important as the air we breath. Literally! In one very scientific video I found, they pointed out very clearly that sharks indirectly control the algae that produces much of the world’s oxygen!

Shark Fin Soup

Do you know about Shark Fin Soup? The main reason shark populations are plummeting.

Here’s a video to get us up to speed…

Via: Rob Stewart at SavingSharks.com 4

I know. I know. I was completely speechless and in the dark about this too: dreadful, heartless, wasteful, and completely heedless of the reality that we face as a planet together. (And this was the “tamest” video on the subject that we could find for you!) If you want to see the full documentary from which the clips from this video were taken you can watch Sharkwater over on YouTube.

BUT WE WILL BRING THIS STORY AROUND TO THE “AMAZING WORLD” PART!…

I was inspired to press on and take action at this point in my knowledge gain.

After seeing this, I immediately did my homework on the various Non-Profits doing shark conservation work. In the end, I signed up with a conservation group I found called WildAid which gets a four-star rating (the highest rating you can get) from online charity rating organization Charity Navigator.

Want to see how Charity Navigator scores charities you might want to work with? Take a look at WildAid’s score page. It’s cool and a good peace of mind!

Jane Goodall is on their team, and anything that Jane thinks is a winner, I can trust.

Here’s a short news story that points to the expansive nature of this issue. This is not just a problem in Asia.

And the good news about saving sharks?

Educated people are taking this matter in hand. Some of them are in the Asian food industry, community leaders in places where eco-tourism is going to be an economic blessing for locals, and they are taking a stand.

Next up is a beautifully done video sponsored by a famous Asian restaurant in northern Borneo. They are among the “thought leaders” leading a charge to ban this practice, and it speaks to why saving sharks must become important for all coastal areas.

The video makes a key point that is a great toehold for the movement to save sharks: Sharks are worth much more alive than dead, especially for poor people. It’s a fascinating rationale. Take a look…

So what can we do?

Take your business elsewhere.

Even in the U.S. and Canada, there are businesses that participate in the Shark Fin trade.

Do not support any restaurant or grocery store that sells shark or ray products or shark fin soup, and be sure to inform them of your concerns. This includes shark cartilage, squalene (used in many beauty products), shark meat, shark leather, shark teeth/jaws, and shark fins.

But most importantly, in a respectful way, be sure to TELL business owners exactly why you are boycotting their restaurants/stores.

Educate them and give them a chance to do the right thing by publicly denouncing the sale of sharks and ray products. 

I found the most amazing web page where you can see if there are restaurants near you with the soup on the menu. Check out this page that is actively building a database at Say NO to Shark Fin Soup. The listings they have there may surprise you.

But the main thing we can do – as a planet – is turn our backs on relationships with people who keep the shocking trade in shark fin soup going.

The primary countries that practice this out-dated custom are China, Thailand, the Philippines and Japan.

Make your vote count.

Even if you aren’t living in a country that is heavily consuming sharks, chances are, your country is part of the problem. The US and many countries in the EU are responsible for catching more sharks than most other countries in the world. Support legislation that stops shark fishing, protects shark habitats, and ends overfishing.

It’s not just about the sharks – it’s about the oceans.

There is progress!

Take a look at what WildAid is doing for sharks and the environment at large as well as what they have planned (seriously, read this in full and you’ll feel a lot better):

What is WildAid doing?
To measurably raise awareness and concern about the impact of the consumption of shark fin soup on shark populations and marine biodiversity, we work with media network partners in China to broadcast our Say No to Shark campaign messages via TV and other media outlets, including video boards in subway and train stations, airports, and university campuses. We have produced many high quality TV PSAs on shark fin for China with our celebrity ambassadors Yao Ming and others, including prominent Chinese CEOs. Our latest campaign features several new PSAs including sports icon David Beckham, actor and director Jiang Wen, and actress Maggie Q.

Our campaigns, in combination with government bans at official events, have contributed to a reported 50%-70% decrease in China’s shark fin consumption.

In the upcoming year we will continue our work with governments in consuming nations, increase our restaurant and hotel partnerships, recruit more ambassadors for additional media outreach, and much more.

The Impact Timeline

  • 2015-2016: Expanding campaign efforts in Southeast Asia and building public and political support for legal controls on the consumption of shark fin in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.
  • September 2015: Supported Parkview Arts Action’s “On Sharks and Humanity” exhibits in Moscow and Beijing, where more than 30 artists from around the world displayed shark-related art pieces to promote shark protection and support our campaign to end the consumption of shark fin soup.
  • August 2015: Filmed a new PSA with actor and environmentalist, Ian Somerhalder, to broaden our impact and spread our shark conservation message further among global consumers.
  • June 2015: More than 30 airlines and 15 hotel chains have banned shark fin soup.
  • April 2015: Collaborated with Guangzhou Fisheries Law Enforcement officials and WCS to organize a capability training course for 80 front-line fishery officers to learn how to quickly identify products from shark species listed on CITES Appendix II.
  • December 2014: Hosted the Qingdao March for Sharks event, which gathered several hundred participants to raise awareness and encourage others to say no to shark fin soup.
  • November 2014: Held two “I’m Finished with Fins” press conferences in Singapore and Malaysia to announce new partnerships with Hilton Worldwide, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Hyatt and IndoChine.
  • November 2014: Filmed a public service announcement with actor Norman Reedus, star of The Walking Dead.
  • November 2014: More than 76,000 individuals in Malaysia and 70,000 individuals in Hong Kong signed our “I’m FINished with Fins” pledge.
  • October 2014: The Malaysian government announced a government banquet ban on shark fin.
  • August 2014: Our public service announcement, “Impress”, featuring Maggie Q was selected as a finalist in the 2014 BLUE Ocean Film Festival.
  • August 2014: Released a new report, “Evidence of Declines in Shark Fin Demand, China”, compiling public opinion and shark vendor survey results as well as trade statistics and media reports.
  • July 2014: 23 airlines and 5 hotel chains have banned shark fin
  • July 2014: Massachusetts became the 9th US state to ban the shark fin trade (joining California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Oregon, and Washington).
  • 2014: Successfully merged with grass roots group Shark Savers
  • 2014: Released “Impress” our latest shark public service announcement, featuring actress Maggie
  • 2013: Distributed our shark public service messages throughout China and secured more than 3,250 airings across 19 channels with a pro-bono broadcast value of $11.6 million
  • November 2013: Shark fin traders interviewed by WildAid in Guangzhou reported a 30-50% drop in price over the past two years, stating “shark fin is the same price as squid now.Three major traders reported that they are planning to leave the shark fin business because it is no longer profitable. One reason [of three] given by them for the drop in demand and prices was environmental awareness and campaigns, with specific mention of Yao Ming, a WildAid ambassador seen in numerous PSAs and billboards.
  • September 2013: We launched the “I’m FINished with Fins” pledge campaign in China in partnership with Sina Weibo that reached 200 million Weibo subscribers. Of those, 50 million posts were read and 340,000 users uploaded photos or signed the pledge.
  • 2013: The Hong Kong government banned shark fin soup from government functions.
  • 2013: Another of our surveys revealed that 85% of respondents in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu said they stopped eating shark fin soup in the last three years. Sixty-five percent of those said awareness campaigns were a reason why they stopped.
  • 2012: The Chinese government announced it would ban shark-fin from all state banquets within three years (China implemented the ban in 2013). This was the first response to the National People’s Congress proposal (which credited the WildAid/Yao Ming campaign) to ban shark fin trade altogether.
  • 2010: In our online poll on Sina Weibo (China’s equivalent of Twitter), 27,370 people voted for a ban on shark fin sales, with only 440 against, indicating broad public support.
  • 2008: Following the Beijing Olympics, an independent survey showed that 55% of people in Beijing remembered our shark campaign with 82% of those saying they would reduce or stop their consumption as a result and 89% saying shark fin should be banned. 7

That kind of timeline gives us all hope for two reasons: first, it means there is light at the end of the tunnel on this matter, and secondly, most importantly, it tells us that we each can have a huge impact on issues that matter like this if we use our voices collectively.

Sharks and poor people in developing countries…

Okay, we could go on and on in this subject area because we found no end to the good science and support for ending this war on sharks. But most details could be boiled down to a single data point that we saw all over conscientious websites:

‘Sharks are worth more alive,’ says Angelo Villagomez, manager of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ global shark conservation campaign.” 8

And here’s another quote to remember: “more than 30 percent of the Maldives’ economy is based on shark eco-tourism, and in Palau it was estimated that a shark that brings in $108 dead is worth $1.9 million alive over its lifetime.” 9  Global tourism in remote coastal areas with healthy shark population can end poverty, educate millions and be nothing but a win-win in the long run. So our next question? How is it possibly worth hurting these important creatures!?

The same question is beginning to resonate on most coasts where tourism has any presence. The days of “Likes” for a photo of the dead shark with a macho male on a Facebook page are coming to a close (in fact, if you pass this article around, we may all have a big role in ending it a little sooner!)

A Final Point on Today’s “Save the Sharks” Information

The current trade in shark meat and fins is worth $250 million US dollars. If the current movements keep picking up supporters and steam, that tourist dollars generated by healthy LIVING sharks project out to be $785 million. This is a no brainer.

So to close today, let’s take a page from the most successful conservation efforts in history. All of them relied on word of mouth among ordinary people to raise consciousness and reduce demand for endangered parts of nature.

If you live in Asia, get behind efforts to shut down the shark fin industry of your grandfathers. If you live in places that make shark fishing a macho sport, lobby your local marinas to ban dead sharks on the premises, if you need a class project, or community service points volunteer online, or if you are just one person, alone with your laptop or mobile device now, make your voice heard joining WildAid today.

Here’s one last video to end on a high note. Pay close attention to what the efforts of individuals like you and I can make happen when we throw our hat in the ring! When watching this, be patient: it takes about 20 years on their graphic for progress to start after the movie Jaws first came out in 1975, but then the movement really get’s momentum!

Go to around 1 minute in the following video and see the timeline of efforts to change things for sharks. It’s a cool graphic representation of possibility!

Image: Shark savers Richard Branson, Yao Ming, and Zhang Yue

Virgin Air’s Richard Branson with Yao Ming and Chinese business leader Zhang Yue weighing in with their support for SharkSavers.org. Source: Shark Savers

Hope you’ve enjoyed this deep dive into a little known global issue with big consequences.

And take heart in the fact that important people, ordinary people, and youth all around the world are getting informed and mobilizing. This can turn around if we share knowledge and pool our collective voices. Share this article if you think it will make a change in even one person’s opinion. Every fire starts with a spark!

Meanwhile, stay open, curious and hopeful!

~ Dr. Lynda

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Notes:

  1. Benchley, Wendy and Knowlton, Nancy, “The State of Sharks, 40 Years After Jaws.” smithsonianmag.com, August 11, 2014.
  2. Global Shark Conservation, “Navigating Global Shark Conservation Measures: Current Measures and Gaps.” pewtrusts.org, July 8, 2012.
  3. Hanson, Joe. “What If There Were No Sharks?” YouTube. Its OK to Be Smart, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAzxkDQFPe0>.
  4. YouTube. SavingSharks.com, 12 Aug. 2008. Web. 12 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PC66ACRpBH8>.
  5. Clark, Nick. “Sharks Face Extinction in Arabian Seas.” YouTube. Al Jazeera English, 16 Mar. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIdQPmkg_XE&ebc=ANyPxKpbIiU5IklrZrViTt5mhOr6Cs3XS26Ex50udxRo8gJltgP7C8dAKt7zXfE6kACTxBzMN4Om4EWmAAHCsNiE1V0GqA5ENA>.
  6. “Save Sabah’s Sharks – Stop Shark Fishing.” YouTube. Scubazoo, 28 Feb. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQxmg-2t1NU>.
  7. “Sharks.” WildAid. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2016. <http://wildaid.org/sharks>.
  8. Geiling, Natasha, “Save the Sharks By Swimming With Them.” smithsonianmag.com, August 14, 2014.
  9. Benchley, Wendy and Knowlton, Nancy, “The State of Sharks, 40 Years After Jaws.” smithsonianmag.com, August 11, 2014.
  10. “Map of Shark Protection Through Time.” YouTube. Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, 7 Aug. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJQTSLgj2_s>.

Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world.