I love sharks. At the end of this month will be the 20th anniversary of Shark Week, and I still remember watching the first Shark Week as a little kid. So, if you have Discovery Channel, I think it will definitely be worth checking out.
I still remember going to Monterey Bay Aquarium to see the only program which allows great white sharks to survive in captivity – temporarily at least. That experience easily gave the best sermons I’ve ever heard a run for their money. My wife had to almost literally physically drag me away.
Sharks are around 400 million years old. (Or, if you’re a Young-Earth Creationist, about 6 thousand years old – not as exciting). This means that sharks are older than trees. They are living monuments of biological legacy. They have a sixth sense which makes them sensitive to electrical signals from the heartbeat of a frightened flounder buried in an inch of sand. Some have two kinds of eyelids. They can smell a droplet of blood a mile away in the open ocean. The Mako shark might be the fastest fish in the sea, can overtake and devour swordfish, and might be able to swim at bursts of speed up to 60 km/h.
Ok, I’ll stop now.
A lot of people are unreasonably afraid of sharks. Frankly, they’re pretty frightening. There’s something primordially scary about a big, lean predator that can eat you at any moment, and you will almost certainly not see it coming until it is too late. A Great White can hit you from below at about 30 mph and it weighs more than a lot of automobiles, delivering enough force to erupt out of the water entirely.
The problem that we face, however, is one of proportions. For example: in 2004, there were only seven shark-attack related deaths worldwide. You are much more likely to be bitten by a New Yorker than by a shark. You are also more likely to be killed by a falling coconut, or a lightening strike, or any number of unbelievably unlikely things.
By comparison, every year human beings kill as many as 100 million sharks. Most of them are killed in the following way – the are hauled in on long lines, their fins are cut off, and they are thrown back into the sea to drown. The fins are then sold in upscale Japanese restaurants in shark fin soup, which is a status symbol and is also believed to be an aphrodisiac. (Depressingly, rhinoceroses and tigers also face extinction so that East Asian men can have aphrodisiacs – I say, send them truckloads of Viagra.)
You might think “who cares? Those 100 million sharks had it coming to them for…you know…being sharks. And the Japanese deserve all the shark fin soup they can slurp down.” But there are a few things to consider.
Some species of sharks can learn more quickly than dogs or cats, and are more adept problem-solvers. This indicates that they are more intelligent, and indicates that they may have the same capacity for suffering. Now, if someone was harvesting 100 million dogs and cutting off their limbs and then tossing them into the ocean, that would be pretty horrific. And dogs kill more people every year than sharks.
100 million is an incomprehensibly large number, and there is a 0% chance that this kind of fishing is sustainable. So we’re heading to a situation where our grandchildren can add sharks to the list, including polar bears and glaciers, of things they will only read about in books or see in videos.
No one has a good idea of what the impact this kind of overfishing will have on the oceans’ ecosystems, but only an idiot would assume the impact will be 1) none or 2) positive. Decimating apex predators has never been a good thing for any ecosystem, so we can probably assume this won’t be good either.
If you don’t care, you baffle me, but there’s of course nothing I can do.
If you do care, here are some sources for more information: