This Shark Week, let's love an animal that scares us
As Shark Week appears on the Discovery Channel for the 25th year, I have to wonder whether in another 25 years, it will air on The History Channel instead. After more than 400 million years on planet Earth, sharks are being decimated by overfishing and the lucrative trade in shark fins.
Cameron Davidson,Discovery Channel/PRNewsFoto
This week marks the 25th airing of one of Discovery Channel’s best-loved educational series, Shark Week. But as human greed drives sharks toward extinction, I have to wonder if, 25 years from now, Shark Week will run on The History Channel instead.
After more than 400 million years on planet Earth, sharks are being decimated by overfishing and the lucrative trade in shark fins. Shark-fin soup, a delicacy symbolizing wealth and status in China, now sells for as much as $100 a bowl in that country. Fishermen cut off the fins, then toss sharks back into the ocean where they bleed to death.
Humans take the lives of approximately 73 million sharks a year, and threaten one-third of shark species with extinction. Brutal reports of thousands of lifeless, finless sharks found on the ocean floor, such as this report about the Colombian coast, reveal the recklessness of turning nature into a commodity.
Because sharks mature late and produce few young, they cannot possibly reproduce at the same rate at which we kill them. By contrast, shark attacks only lead to about 6 to 12 reported deaths of humans per year globally.
Naturally, there are many reasons why protecting sharks is not the cause of choice for the average Westerner. For one thing, sharks are scary. And the centuries-old practice of eating them – part cultural tradition, part big business – is mostly happening on the other side of the world.
Most Americans don't eat shark-fin soup, so why should they feel responsible for the slaughter that makes it possible? Besides, with crises such as hunger threatening nearly one billion people worldwide, and the dark economic cloud looming over the rest of us, we have more pressing concerns.
Those are all the very excuses that, until recently, I used.