What first comes to your mind when you think about sharks?
That’s how the passionate Tom Lisney, neuroecologist and shark biologist, called upon the ILYMUN’s resource management committee to begin his conference. He said that the public’s opinion on sharks has an impact on how we are dealing with this animal’s exploitation.
“I believe they are misunderstood”, answers one delegate.
Until a few years ago, the only good shark was a dead shark; and people feared them as “human-eaters”. Let’s set the record straight, they’re not. And the Whale Shark, the biggest one, only eats plankton. The number of shark attacks on humans in the past century has been estimated at 250, whereas 100 million sharks are killed every year. But campaigns have begun to make a change. Indeed, changing public perception is an important weapon to protect these animals.
Since they are at the top of the ocean’s food chain, sharks are essential for maintaining the ocean’s health keeping the ecosystem balanced. And our own health depends on ocean’s health as well. For instance, 2.6 billions people depend on marine ecosystems for primary source of proteins. They are probably the most successful predators of the world, and have greatly evolved over 400 millions years. However, they have become susceptible to overfishing, and are becoming endangered.
Since the 1950’s, their population has decreased by 95%. Shark finning is one of the main causes of this decrease; it happens mostly in Asia. The sharks are fished, and then their fins, tails, and flippers are cut off before being thrown back into the sea, where they then drown at the bottom of the ocean.
Shark fin trade is the reason of all of this. Traditional fin soup is very prestigious in Asia, where it is seen as a sign of wealth. In the United States, a bowl of fin soup can cost up to $200. China represents 95% of the global shark fin market.
Big business means it’s difficult to stop. It represents important income for developing countries, and it involves organised crime and corruption. Furthermore, shark fin trade is still largely unregulated. Finning is illegal in some countries; international treaties exist for some sharks species but they are mostly fished and finned in international waters, where it is much harder to regulate.
However some positive changes are already taking place. Forget “Shark attack”. Education and public awareness are changing people’s perceptions of sharks. Furthermore, major airlines and shipping companies have banned shipments of shark fins and other shark products. New marine sanctuaries for sharks have been established. And lastly, a bill has been introduced in US Congress on July 2016 to ban all trade shark fins in the US. Major steps are being made to preserve sharks and other endangered species around the world.
Wanted. Do we want sharks alive or dead? Lately, Taïwan’s market price fixed a dead Whale Shark at $21 000. Shark ecotourism enables people to swim peacefully and safely with sharks. On average, a live shark can produce $35 000 of revenue per year, so $2.1 million over its 60 year lifetime.
Something has to be done, and fast; or the extinction of sharks will cause major repercussions on the entire planet.