Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Victory Month | Sharks Get Help Around the World

Sharks have been swimming the Earth's oceans unchallenged for 420 million years. Then humans arrived. And the Chinese developed a taste for shark fin soup. In 2011, sharks got some much needed help

[December is Victory Month on 13.7 Billion Years. As the year comes to a close, each post will review a big or small victory that was made possible in 2011 in part by the actions taken by you through signing petitions, making donations, sending letters to your elected representatives, asking companies to change their policies, making a statement at the cash register as an ethical consumer, joining a public protest or engaging in other types of activism. By taking a moment to get involved, you have helped to make a difference. Thank you.]

Sharks scored several wins around the world in 2011, thanks in part to public pressure. Here are some key victories.

European Commission Moves to End Shark Finning

In November, in a move to support better shark conservation, the European Commission proposed closing loopholes in the European Union shark finning ban. Shark finning is a cruel practice in which the fins of live sharks are cut off and their finless bodies are deposited back in the water, where they sink to the bottom and die a slow and horrible death, often eaten alive by other fish. The fins are used to supply the market for shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese recipe. Over 73 million sharks are killed in this horrific fashion every year around the world -- just for soup.

"Since the early 1990s, finning has been banned by approximately 30 countries, with the EU ban occurring in 2003," according to the Pew Environment Group. "Most international fisheries bodies banned finning in 2004 and 2005. The current EU regulation, however, cannot ensure that finning is not continuing undetected and unpunished. EU Member States, for example, can grant special fishing permits that allow fishermen to remove shark fins at sea and bring bodies and fins to separate ports."

If the Commission proposal is adopted by the European Parliament and Council of Fisheries Ministers from the EU’s 27 member states, special fishing permits would not be allowed, ensuring that "all sharks taken by EU vessels or in EU waters are landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies."

Stop Shark Finning has compiled a list of restaurants around the world that sell shark fin soup and has urged the public to boycott these establishments.

Florida Protects Sharks

Beginning in January, it will be illegal to kill tiger sharks and three species of hammerheads (scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads) in Florida's waters. If any of these species are accidentally caught, they must be released immediately. This is a huge victory for these sharks, as the waters off the Florida coast are an important habitat.

"Tiger sharks have declined drastically in recent decades—up to 97% in US Atlantic waters," writes Rebecca Greenberg of the conservation group Oceana. "And these three species of hammerhead sharks have declined about 70% in northwest Atlantic waters. Sharks are often caught for their fins that eventually end up in shark fin soup."

California Makes Shark Finning Illegal

In October, California governor Jerry Brown signed AB376 into law, making the possession, sale and trade of shark fins illegal in the state beginning in 2013. This is a huge victory for sharks, especially considering the many Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles and San Francisco that sell shark fin soup.

"The practice of cutting the fins off of living sharks and dumping them back in the ocean is not only cruel, but it harms the health of our oceans," said Governor Brown. "Researchers estimate that some shark populations have declined by more than 90 percent, portending grave threats to our environment and commercial fishing. In the interest of future generations, I have signed this bill."

No Shark Cull in Western Australia

Following a spate of shark attacks, officials in Western Australia considered a shark cull. But thanks to the more than 18,000 people who signed a Care2 petition and the advocacy of Care2 member and marine neuroecologist Ryan Kempster, founder of the conservation group Support Our Sharks, the government rejected the cull option and instead invested more than $13 million in research, helicopter surveillance patrols, swimmer education and a shark response unit.

"This is a fantastic outcome for public safety and shark conservation in WA," said Kempster, in a Care2 announcement. "The shark mitigation measures outlined by WA Fisheries Minister Moore set a benchmark for other Australian states and will place WA as a national leader in beach protection and shark conservation."

There's No Such Thing As a Shark Attack

Western Australia's logical response demonstrates an awareness that when we go into shark territory, we are uninvited guests there. The comedian Gilbert Arenas put it best:

"We’re humans. We live on land. Sharks live in water. So if you're swimming in the water and a shark bites you, that's called trespassing. That is not a shark attack. A shark attack is if you're chilling at home, sitting on your couch, and a shark comes in and bites you; now that's a shark attack. Now, if you're chilling in the water, that is called invasion of space. So I have never heard of a shark attack."

  • Avoid these restaurants and any restaurants that sell shark fin soup, and tell them why you're not supporting their business (Stop Shark Finning Boycott)
  • Join the almost 2.3 million people around the world who have signed the Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare (
  • Tune into Big Cat Week on NatGeo (NatGeo)
  • Follow 13.7 Billion Years on Twitter
image: hammerhead shark (credit: National Geographic, Wikimedia Commons)