It is hard to conceive of a world without sharks. These animals have captured our imaginations (and fear) through films like Jaws, but in reality they play an integral role in a healthy ocean ecosystem, keeping prey species in check. Today, however, shark populations are in crisis due to the global shark fin trade, as tens of millions are killed each year for shark fin soup. A quarter of all sharks and related species are now threatened with extinction.

Photo of great white shark in the wild. Credit: Vanessa Mignon

Although the act of finning—which involves cutting the fins off of live sharks, then dumping them back into the water to die from shock, blood loss or predation—is prohibited in U.S. waters, our trade in shark fins continues to fuel the cruel practice of finning in other countries that have poor laws or enforcement against it.

Footage Courtesy of The Humane Society of the United States

Good news is on the horizon, however: a bill that can help sharks passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year and now awaits action in the U.S. Senate. Reps. Gregorio Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, introduced the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act in the House. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Virginia, introduced it in the Senate. The bill would prohibit the commercial trade of shark fins and products containing shark fins throughout the United States, and would end our role as a major transit hub in the complex international web of shark fin commerce.

shark fins
Dried shark fins for sale and shark fin soup on the menu. Photo courtesy of Humane Society

There is already support in the United States for such action. Fifteen states and three territories have banned or limited the trade in shark fins. And in a poll conducted by Oceana in 2016, results showed that support a nationwide shark fin trade ban. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act is an important complement to state laws, and by passing a federal bill, our nation can reassert its standing as a global leader in shark conservation and serve as a model for other countries.

Almost 500 species of sharks inhabit the oceans. They are diverse and fascinating! Here is a look at what our oceans stand to lose through the fin trade:

  • Thresher sharks have an extremely long tail, often as long as their bodies, which they use to whip and stun fish for easy prey.
  • Stingrays are closely related to sharks. Some unique commonalities include their electric sense to find food, their lack of a bony skeleton, and the fact that both species have existed for hundreds of millions of years. Due to these similarities, stingrays are sometimes called “flat sharks.”
  • Humans and sharks have more in common than you may think. Like us, when they lose a tooth, a new one grows in its place. The difference, however, is that sharks constantly grow new teeth throughout their lives.
  • Do sharks have lungs? No, but they still need oxygen to survive. Sharks’ gills draw oxygen from water, which holds a lower concentration of oxygen than the air we breathe.
  • Sharks have survived five mass extinctions over the course of their existence. How is this possible? Although there is no definitive answer, scientists believe living in deep waters and species diversity aided in their survival.
  • In 2016, a group of scientists used radiocarbon dating to identify the age of Greenland sharks living in the cold, deep North Atlantic ocean. They discovered a female who was 400 years old! They are also one of the largest shark species, growing up to 24 feet (7.3 meters).
  • The smallest shark species is the dwarf lantern shark, which can fit in the palm of your hand. Not much is known about the species, but they glow in the dark. This technique helps with camouflage and may also attract prey.

This is just a sampling of facts about these unique and ecologically vital creatures that deserve strong protections. Let’s turn the tide for sharks. Please contact your U.S. Senators and ask them to pass S. 877, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act.

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Photos/Videos courtesy of The Humane Society of the United States