Shark Protection

Phuket Diving Guide

If you’re a scuba diver, you know that seeing sharks underwater is one of the most thrilling experiences you will ever have. If you are a non-diver, then you might think what I just said is the silliest thing you’ve ever heard. But, for those you of you who have never seen a live shark, it’s something akin to seeing a lion in Africa, a tiger in India, or a bear in Alaska. I don’t mean in a zoo, I mean in the wild.

More of you reading this have probably had the latter experience and you know how beautiful these animals are. For those of us who do our safaris underwater, a shark is something we travel all over the world to see. Lions, tigers and sharks...

Unfortunately, sharks are under threat, and most species—if nothing is done soon—will probably be gone in your lifetime. Over fishing has decimated most shark populations especially in the tropics, and what is so sad about it is that most of it is not even being used for nutritious food. The fins are used to make Shark Fin Soup, a tasteless soup which has no health benefit; people serve it simply to boast or for “increased energy” if you know what I mean. This soup is popular all over Asia, including Thailand though less so than Hong Kong or Mainland China. Feeding the people is one thing; feeding a myth or one’s ego is another thing entirely.

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Myths About Sharks

Most people don’t realize that there are 360 described species of shark inhabiting the world’s oceans. Most of them are docile, shy, and quite small. A common myth about sharks is that all species need to keeping swimming in order the breath. In fact, only two orders of the eight classified need to keep swimming at all times. Most people are familiar with the type of shark that needs to swim constantly as this is the type we see on television shows and are the sharks that look like ‘real sharks’; the ones people think of as scary sharks. However, few are really scary, nor are they very big. Most importantly there are fewer than 10 human shark-related deaths each year and these are all by just four of 360 species. That’s fewer people than get struck by lighting every year. Statistically, there is zero chance that a shark will ever attack you.

I know that psychologically it’s difficult to be swayed away from a fear by having some guy throw a statistic at you. But, this is not a story about human beings; this is a story about sharks. So, I’ll throw a really scary statistic at you—at least from the shark’s point of view.

Humans kill somewhere between 50 and 100 million sharks per year. Maybe more, no one really knows the exact number. Most of these sharks are killed for their fins. The others are killed as by-catch or by “accident” and are simply thrown away. This is happening right now, as you read this, and in the past 20 to 30 years, shark populations among most species have dropped 70%. 

Who Cares, You May Ask?

First of all, in a world where many people still go hungry, it’s a huge waste of protein as the majority of sharks kills are simply for the fin; the shark is finned alive, and left to drown, wasting 90% of the fish. The rest of the fish is “unmarketable” and heavy so it’s not worth even bringing the carcass back to port. If you’re the emotional type who has feelings for animals, that statement should make you feel some sympathy. If you’re more of a stoic and don’t have much feeling about animals one way or another, the shear waste of meat should appeal to your sense of right and wrong.

However, the problem has deeper implications as it directly impacts coral reefs. Sharks are at the top of the food chain on a reef and their feeding is essential to the reef’s survival to keep this sensitive ecosystem’s delicate balance healthy and productive. A shark may not be important to you, but a coral reef is indeed important to you whether you know it or not. Coral reefs feed hundreds of millions of people, stop erosion, improve water clarity and quality, and act as nurseries for game fish which you probably enjoy eating and do offer necessary protein to humans. 

The Reefs; They’re There for a Reason

Take away these reefs, and a lot of bad things start to happen. Since coral reefs are under threat around the world already, adding to the problem by fishing for sharks to be used in a soup which has no proven nutritional value, but is only a vulgar display of wealth is just plain silly. We have enough environmental problems involving the use of human necessities without adding to the problem just to satisfy our egos.

The other value of sharks to humans, who live on tropical islands such as Phuket and make their livings from tourism, is the value of a live shark compared to the value of a dead shark. If a local fisherman catches a shark, he’ll earn a few baht for that, probably not even enough to feed his family for one day. However, if the shark is kept alive, and tourists are taken to see sharks by tour boat (which is a very common activity in many places), the sharks can be worth millions of baht over its lifetime. Whale sharks and leopard sharks are more common in Thai waters than they are in other places, and divers and non-divers visit Thailand specifically to see these fish. If we kill the sharks, these tourists will go elsewhere, it’s that simple. 

What Can One Person Do?

At this point, very few countries are even talking about protecting sharks much less taking active measures. Most of the television programs we see are designed to entertain you, not give you factual information so most of the shark shows we watch just can’t resist making you feel no sympathy for their plight. I know, I know. You ask yourself, “What can one person do?”

Well, in this case, it’s quite easy. If you eat shark fin soup, stop immediately. If you eat at Chinese restaurants, and they have shark fin on the menu, don’t return, and make sure you tell them the reason you will not be returning. If it’s served on an airline, or at a swank hotel, tell the hotel management you disagree with their decision to serve shark fin soup. There are enough problems in this world that are difficult to solve, but you as an individual can help to solve this one.

A few years ago concerned divers signed various petitions asking Thai Airways International and Singapore Airlines to stop serving shark fin soup, and in fact, they did. Memories being short, rumours are they have started again, but this is one problem that you can solve easily, and it takes almost no effort. So, have sympathy for one of earth’s fiercest and oldest creatures, and stop eating them today.               

Source: ©Siam Dive n' Sail & John B. Williams
68/14 Patak Road, Mu 2, Karon, 83100 Phuket, Thailand
Tel: 66-76/330-967 Fax: 66-76/330-990

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