Since the year 1580, only 471 people have died as a result of an unprovoked shark attack. Compare that number to 73 million — the number of sharks people kill every single year. So who are the real terrifying ocean predators?
Most sharks are killed solely for their fins, which are used in the “delicacy” shark-fin soup. But now sharks are receiving strong support from an unlikely group: shark-attack survivors. They have joined the Pew Environmental Group and scientists from Stony Brook University to analyze the DNA of shark-fin samples from soup served in 14 different U.S. cities.
The result: Among the 33 different species of sharks represented, several were classified as endangered, vulnerable to extinction, or near-threatened because of overfishing.
Debbie Salamone, a shark-attack survivor who helped organize the study, said the group plans to use this information to educate people about the dangers that sharks face. “We were all in the ocean to begin with because we love it,” she said. “If we can stick up for sharks, that turns a lot of heads.”
The process of shark finning is gorier than the great white in Jaws ever thought about being. Fishers drag a shark to the surface by way of a huge hook protruding through his or her mouth and slice off the shark’s dorsal fin, rendering the animal incapable of swimming. They then dump the still-living shark back into the ocean, where the animal will bleed to death or be slowly eaten alive.
Now for the good news. Thanks to animal rights groups such as PETA, which have publicized the cruelty of shark finning, there is growing worldwide outrage over it, and calls to ban the practice and the product aren’t going unheeded.
Shark finning is banned on the coasts of the United States. Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, California, and Illinois have banned the sale of fins as well. The European Union has a partial ban on finning and is considering closing the loophole that currently allows some finning. A number of other nations, including the Bahamas, Canada, the Marshall Islands, and Chile have passed laws to protect sharks. Even China, the country where shark-fin soup is most popular, has banned the dish from official functions.
If animal advocates continue to decry gruesome shark finning and refuse to purchase any shark products (including shark-cartilage supplements), we can protect sharks from the real danger lurking in the water: people.