Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Shark Attack Survivors Speak Out for Ban on Shark Fins

Shark fins

Sharks have for generations been given a bad impression as maneaters by the general public. Their reputation as bloodthirsty killers has haunted the minds of people all around the world, and even glorified in countless films. News about shark attacks have and still continue to make headlines, especially in places that have gained notoriety for such dangerous and life-threatening encounters. Whenever there is a report about a shark attack, it is generally more than enough to put the fear of God into people making them think that sharks are ruthless killers of the deep blue sea. But now, that image is about change as survivors of such horrific attacks are stepping forward to save lives of these fish that once tried to either sever their limbs, and in some cases, nearly taking their lives. As part of the effort, they are speaking out against the selling of shark fins and persuading restaurant-goers to refrain from eating at restaurants serving shark fin soup. A report released by the Pew Environmental Group indicated that out of 32 samples with traceable shark DNA taken from Chinese restaurants across the United States, 26 had fins of sharks listed as endangered, vulnerable, or near threatened species. The study was based on shark fin soup tests in fourteen major U.S cities from where shark attack survivors collected samples. They spread out to a total of 51 restaurants in Albuquerque, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, and the Washington, D.C. area. The findings showed that seven samples from Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, and Seattle contained DNA from sharks listed as vulnerable. Another eighteen samples were found to have DNA from sharks listed as near threatened, while the remaining samples contained meat that could not be specifically determined either due to the quality of the DNA or lack of useable DNA.
A bowl of shark fin soup

In addition to conducting their study, the group has also lobbied the U.S Congress to shut the loopholes in the shark fin trade and even works through the United Nations to urge the setting up of shark sanctuaries around the world. Their efforts in protecting sharks started after a competitive ballroom dancer named Debbie Salamone had her Achilles tendon lacerated by a shark off the coast of Florida in 2004. Salamone, who is now a spokeswoman for the group, decided to refocus her life's work on protecting sharks and enlisting other shark attack victims from around the world to help with her goal. The group stated that nearly one-third of shark species are on the brink of extinction, and up to 73 million are killed each year for their fins. They hope that the study will encourage the public to stop consuming shark fin soup. However, this action did not sit well with California's Chinese community who claimed that a recently enacted state law calling to ban on the possession or sale of shark fins is discriminatory since they consider shark fin soup as a delicacy. One San Francisco lawyer named John Breall, who represents Asian-American civic leaders, importers, and restauranteurs, was surprised by the group's findings. He argued that major shark fisheries on the East and West coasts that supply majority of shark fins and meats are sustainable.
Debbie Salamone; a shark attack victim and spokeswoman for the Pew Environmental Group

I'm very proud to see what shark attack victims are doing in an effort to help save sharks from around the world. The fact that a victim of an animal attack speaking out for the protection and conservation of a particular animal he or she was attacked by can set an example to why it is extremely important to protect and preserve the wildlife of the world. Sharks are one of many animals that have been stereotyped as threats to human lives, but it is important to understand that it is not in their mindset that they want to target human beings as their potential prey. Most cases of shark attacks are a result of mistaken identity. This is especially seen in the case of sharks attacking surfers, mistaking them for seals or sea lions which are their natural prey. The impact of the media has made people believe that sharks are cold-blooded killers, and this is probably why most people would think twice before entering the water. I believe that the best way to keep both people and sharks safe from each other is to have patrols to scout for any possible shark sightings along beaches, and notify the public if there a shark has been sighted. However, in the Chinese culture, the relationship between sharks and people is completely different. The Chinese people regard shark fin soup as a delicacy and like other animal body parts, it is believed to contain supernatural healing powers against different illnesses. This concept has never been proven to be true, yet supernatural belief still drives the public to consume such illegal products. Shark meat and fins are known to contain high contents of methylmercury which is dangerous to the health of young children, nursing mothers, pregnant women, and soon-to-be pregnant women. This is why it is extremely crucial to place a ban on the hunting of sharks and selling of their meat and fins to the public. Otherwise, more and more innocent lives will be at risk as a result of methylmercury.

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