Sharks are often feared in many people’s imaginations as vicious, bloodthirsty predators. However, the truth is that sharks have far greater reason to be afraid of humans than we are of them.
Overfishing, for example, is a serious threat to sharks’ survival, thanks to a phenomenon known in the commercial fishing trade as “bycatch.” Commercial trawlers frequently catch and kill large numbers of sharks and other untargeted marine animals – the bycatch in question – while searching for target species such as cod or tuna. Oceanic conservation group Sea Shepherd has estimated that each year, “50,000,000 sharks are caught unintentionally as bycatch by commercial tuna and swordfish fisheries using longlines, nets, purse seine, and gillnets.”
Another enormous threat to the continued survival of sharks is the existence of the cruel shark fin trade. 73 million sharks are caught every year to have their fins brutally chopped off, usually before being tossed back into the ocean to die an excruciatingly painful death. The impact that this practice has had on the world’s shark population is truly staggering. More than two hundred shark species are now listed as endangered by the International Shark Foundation, while some species have seen their numbers decline by as much as 98 percent.
Sharks play a vital role in regulating the health of our climate by consuming herbivorous fish who would otherwise eat a large amount of carbon-storing oceanic vegetation. When just one percent of this carbon-storing vegetation is consumed, 460 million tons of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere. If sharks go extinct, the survival of our planet as we know it could be threatened.
Change is Happening
Luckily, there are signs that the shark fin trade may be on the way out. Shark fin soup has traditionally been seen as a highly sought-after delicacy in Asia, but a number of recent social awareness campaigns in China have drawn attention to the horrendous toll that this has taken on the world’s shark population. As a result, public perception is shifting. In 2014, it was reported that shark fin sales in the markets of Guangzhou – the center of China’s shark fin trade – had plummeted by 82 percent. UPS, Philippine Airlines, DHL, and China Southern Airlines have all stopped shipping shark fins in an effort to combat the trade … though FedEx has yet to make a similar commitment.
One organization called Pretoma is determined to combat the shark fin trade in Costa Rica and give sharks a fighting chance at survival.
On their website, Pretoma explains, “Costa Rica has an image as a conservationist country. Indeed, there are many positive laws and regulations on paper in Costa Rica. However, marine conservation is very far behind land conservation here, and furthermore, many of the positive laws and regulations that do exist go unenforced.” One area that could definitely be improved upon is the country’s scant regulation of the shark fin trade. Costa Rica is one of the world’s major exporters of shark fins, and the government will not protect any shark species of commercial interest.
In 2011 alone, between 350,000 to 400,000 sharks were killed for their fins in Costa Rican waters, despite the fact that this practice has supposedly been illegal since 2001.
Pretoma, under the leadership of the renowned marine activist Randall Arauz, was established in 1997 and has for many years been a fearless advocate for Costa Rica’s beleaguered shark population.
In 2003, they captured footage of a Taiwanese shipping vessel containing thirty tons of shark fins, docked under the cover of darkness at a private dock in Puntarenas. This video provoked outrage among Costa Ricans and the world at large, raising awareness of the horrors behind the shark fin industry. The organization has also launched petitions garnering over 80,000 signatures, brought a number of high-profile lawsuits against the Costa Rican government, and collaborated with a range of other shark and marine protection groups all over the globe, in an effort to raise public awareness and engagement.
Earlier this year, they slammed an effort by Smalley Development S.A. to seek permission to request the exportation of 690 kilograms of hammerhead shark fins from Costa Rica. This request was made in spite of the fact that the trade in shark fins has been officially banned in Costa Rica. At that time, Arauz said, “How could it be sustainable, much less moral. to export shipments of endangered hammerhead shark fins during a time period when they were banned? The measure was designed to precisely discourage the extraction of hammerhead sharks, otherwise destined for the Asian market, which would allow for population recovery.”
Pretoma is determined never to stop advocating on behalf of sharks and other endangered marine animals, even when faced with governmental indifference.
How You Can Help!
You can help Pretoma continue its incredible work by symbolically adopting a shark or turtle with the group (the lowest donation for this is $50, while the highest is $2,000). Alternatively, you can become a supporting member of the organization for $50 a year. Corporate and institutional membership options are also available. You can also volunteer with one of their programs aimed at protecting marine turtles! More information about their work is available on their website.
You can learn more about the truth behind the shark fin trade and how you can help, by reading the article below.
- 7 Alarming Facts About the Shark Fin Trade
- This Cruel Trade is Rapidly Driving Sharks to Extinction
- 73 Million Sharks are Killed for Fin Soup Every Year! Take Action to Ban the Shark Fin Trade in the U.S.
Lead Image Source: Derek Heasley/Shutterstock