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Is shark fin soup worth it?

Is the wasteful practice of shark finning worth a bowl of soup?

For those of you who like horror movies and large carnivorous creatures, I don’t have to articulate that last week was Discovery Channel’s "Shark Week", the annual end-of-summer series that features television programs about sharks: mostly their attacks and terrifying habit of breaching out of the water to catch seals. The series has attained some die-hard followers (including this author) with last year's series attracting over 30 million viewers. Perhaps because of "Shark Week", my radar seems to be tuned into ocean conservation a little more than usual, as evidenced by my blog last week. I now turn my focus to the dissolute practice of shark finning.

According to The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), shark finning is the wasteful method of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea. The fins are used to fulfill a seemingly insatiable taste for shark fin soup, an increasingly popular (and expensive delicacy) in China. Traditionally the soup was served only at special occasions, but is now eaten more casually with the growth of economic wealth across the vast nation. The fins themselves are essentially tasteless and are added as a thickening agent to a broth usually enhanced by chicken stock. One can understand the historical and cultural weight of shark fin soup, but is shark extinction worth it?

After a little research, the statistics I found are astonishing, considering 18-20 species of sharks are endangered. Ocean advocacy group The SEAlliance estimates that up to 73 million sharks are killed each year. This is problematic because sharks grow slowly, mature late in their life cycle and produce a small number of young as compared to other, more sustainable marine creatures. And sharks are intrinsic to the ocean ecosystem. They are apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain, and act as ecological stabilizers.

So why should shark finning concern you? Famed oceanographer and former chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Sylvia Earle puts it best. “We've got to somehow stabilize our connection to nature so that 50 years from now, 500 years, 5,000 years from now there will still be a wild system and respect for what it takes to sustain us.” In essence, health to the ocean means health for us.

Visit Stop Shark Finning for ideas on how to get involved.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Aug 11, 2011

Your title is a rhetorical question: impossible to answer any way other than a resounding NO! And what about supplement manufacturers who market shark cartilage products? In January 2010, Natural Factors laudably stopped the sale of such product, stating that "sharks are a top predator in the oceans, their removal can damage the rest of the marine ecosystem. Furthermore, as these animals are slow to mature, with already small populations, sharks are extremely vulnerable to over fishing and exploitation... It is our hope that this decision will contribute to the necessary global moratorium required on the harvesting of sharks." It's my understanding that consumer demand, more than solid research, drives the sales of shark cartilage--now used more for osteoarthritis than for cancer, as it was originally touted. There are lots of great emerging supplements to relieve arthritis inflammation and pain, including curcumin, boswellia, willow bark, SAMe, and ASU. See this recent NH360 article for more information on more humane and ecologically sustainable options!

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