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Sharks are incredibly important apex predators and maintain healthy populations of animals below them on the food chain. However, because of human activity such as bycatch, illegal fishing, habitat degradation, and shark finning, sharks face increasing risks to their survival. While in the U.S. 12 states have so far banned the sale of shark fins (while 5 federal bills have died in the House and Senate in the past 2 years), according to the Animal Welfare Institute, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit that updates its list of restaurants that serve shark fin soup and notifies the relevant state enforcement agencies– the bans haven’t stopped restaurants in at least 10 of the 12 states. NatGeo reported that in most states, prison sentences for shark fin transgressions are rare and usually don’t exceed six months for a first offense. Fines are usually less than a thousand dollars. By contrast, a single pound of dried shark fin can sell for $400, and shark fin soup can command anywhere from $50 to $200. It seems as if the bans are merely pushing the market for shark fins underground.
Then in a bit of happy shark news, USA Today reported that a strikingly massive great white shark, one of the largest ever documented, was spotted by divers in Hawaii on Sunday as it feasted on a sperm whale carcass. The sighting of “Deep Blue” off Oahu was remarkable because the handful of previous sightings were documented 2,600 miles away at Guadalupe Island off Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. Deep Blue, believed to measure at least 21 feet, became famous after being featured by Discovery in 2014 and was spotted feasting on a sperm whale carcass off the coast of Oahu.
Why This Matters: Part of the reason why we fear sharks and don’t take their protection as seriously as that of cuter and fluffier species is that we don’t understand them. Sharks have been around for 400 million years and we’ve served as the greatest threat to their existence in that time. Nat Geo made the argument that the best shot we have at stopping the sale of shark fins is to educate the public about how gruesome shark finning truly is. Since 2011, consumption of shark fin soup in China has fallen by about 80 percent, both because of national bans on serving shark fin at government banquets and the effect of celebrity-backed awareness campaigns such as Yao Ming’s, seen by millions of Chinese. Furthermore, most culinary experts agree that shark fins don’t actually add any flavor to soup, rather most of the flavor is derived from chicken broth.