Cub petting is a business which is carried out across the globe, including South Africa, Mexico and Florida. These can include bears, cheetahs, crocodiles and leopards, (however, for this report, we’ll be focusing on lions and tigers, as they are most commonly used). Paying customers will have the opportunity to hold, cuddle, feed and have their picture taken these animals. Well-meaning voluntourists can also go on package trips involving these animals (ranging in price from £800-1,000 approximately) where they will be able to interact with them while under the assumption that they are benefiting the conservation status of the species in the wild.
When giving in to the temptation of holding a cute and cuddly cub, people are often told that the exhibitors are from sanctuaries and that cubs enjoy the experience. It’s done to promote the species conservation in the wild and the cubs move onto good homes when they’re no longer cubs. These erase from the mind of the customers any feelings of doubt and / or guilt before handling the animals, however, in most cases, these statements are often false.
As the demand for this experience increases, more and more cubs are bred to meet it. Many captive lions and tigers are now in effect, being farmed, to produce enough cubs to keep up. The cubs are taken away from their mothers incredibly early which stimulates her to come into season again, ready to produce the next litter. While being passed around from stranger to stranger, the cubs are often drugged to keep them calm and are kept in conditions which impact negatively on their welfare when not on display. There is little to no market for adult lions and tigers other than hunting and many will meet their end in a ‘sport’ known as ‘canned hunting’. Others will be sold into the exotic pet trade or will be killed for their body parts, either to be sold as décor or souvenirs or to be used in traditional Asian medicines.
When agreeing to partake in a cub petting experience, people are often told by the handlers that the cubs are ‘rescued’ and are from ‘sanctuaries’ and that they must keep breeding and showing cubs in order to raise funds to run said ‘sanctuary’. This however, is false. True big cat rescues and sanctuaries do not breed lions or allow cubs to be exhibited around the country to ‘raise funds’. Cub petting experiences often operate facilities which comply with minimal standards of animal enclosure and welfare but fall far below the standards set by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries’ (GFAS) as humane. These ‘pseudo-sanctuaries’ pray on this misconception in order to continue to buy and sell wildlife and gain finances from the public.
Within these operations, cubs are taken from their mothers after only a few days and will separate them using seemingly cruel methods. In one example, workers will wait until the mother leaves the nesting area of her enclosure to feed or drink etc., and will then close the door between them. The mother can then do nothing but watch as they take her cubs. It has also been observed, in larger facilities that workers will drive towards a mother and her cubs in a large vehicle, playing loud horns or sirens to scare her off. They will then quickly retrieve the unattended cubs and drive off with them. In the wild, cubs will typically spend up to two years with the mother and after this premature separation, both the mother and cubs will spend days crying out for each other. The mother will then quickly go back into heat, ready to be bred from again, and the cubs will imprint on their human keepers.
Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS)
The GFAS was founded in 2007 and is located in Washington D.C and was created to help the public to distinguish true sanctuaries from the fake and to set a standard of best practice and animal welfare for allsanctuaries across the globe. The GFAS defines a sanctuary and these must meet their standards in order to be accredited and states that there can be no commercial trade, invasive or intrusive research, unescorted public visitation or contact and no removal of wild animals for exhibition, education or research.
“The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries mission is “Helping Sanctuaries Help Animals”. In carrying out this mission, GFAS:
Promotes and validates excellence in sanctuary management and humane and responsible care of animals through international accreditation, collaboration, mentoring;
Promotes the development of greater recognition and resources for sanctuaries;
Seeks to eliminate the causes of displaces animals.
In actual practice, GFAS carries out this mission through:
Providing worldwide standards,
Carrying out a global accreditation programme,
Speaking up for sanctuaries,
Creating funding streams for responsible disbursement.”
Laws and Legislation
In the U.S, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that cubs under the age of 8 weeks (the age when they are considered to have an adequately developed immune system) are two young for public exhibition and those over the age of 12 weeks are too dangerous, which leaves only a 4 week gap where cubs can legally be handled by the public. This promotes rapid breeding of cubs and illegal overuse of animals (many operations have been found to be violating the 8-12 week policy), which puts the health and safety of humans and the cubs involved at risk for the sake of profit. It has been recorded, that at least 33 facilities in the US are advertising cub petting experiences regularly, which includes travelling mall exhibits and private menageries. To meet this advertised supply, these 33 facilities would have to produce a minimum of 200 cubs annually.
There is, however, very little enforcement of relevant legislation. During 2009, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) had only 97 animal care inspectors to cover over 4,300 facilities and the USDA has only 105 for almost 8,000 in 2011 (about one inspector for every 80 facilities). Facilities covered by these inspections include commercial breeders, zoos, auction houses, circuses, abattoirs and safaris. Enforcement is reduced even further as it is almost impossible to tell if a cub is within the legal age range within a single visit as there is great variance in body size among individuals. This lack of inspectors allows many violations to go unnoticed and unpunished and relying on them to ensure the quality of care of these animals is unrealistic.
Animal Welfare Act 2006
The Animal Welfare Act contains general laws relating to the welfare of all animals on common land and makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to such animals. It also contains a Duty of Care which insists that anyone responsible for an animal must take reasonable steps to make sure their needs are met. These needs include:
The need for a suitable environment,
The need for a suitable diet,
The need to exhibit normal behaviour patterns,
The need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals (where applicable),
The need to be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease.
Penalties for not meeting these needs as a person responsible for an animal’s welfare include prison time and / or a fine of up to £20,000 ($30,383) as well as a ban from owning animals in the future.
Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976
This piece of legislation requires people to acquire a license in order to keep dangerous wild animals (any animal that poses a potential risk to the public). The terms of this license insist that the applicant makes the local authority aware of which species they intend to keep and how many of each species, as well as the location of the premises on which the animals will be normally held. This act also states that the animal(s) in question should only be kept by the person named on the license, the animal(s) shall normally be kept on the premises included on the license and the animal(s) shall not be moved from the premises.
The Dangerous Wild Animals Act does not apply to zoos, circuses, pet shops or any place which is a designated establishment within the meaning of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Penalties for breaking the terms of the license include seizure of the animal(s) which can then be held or destroyed without compensation, cancellation of the license and/or a fine of up to £5,000 ($7,595.75). All big cats and bears are included under this act.
The local authority will only grant a license if:
The applicant is deemed to be suitable to hold a license,
The animal(s) is kept in a suitable environment;
A secure enclosure,
Enclosure is of suitable construction, size, temperature, lighting, ventilation, drainage and cleanliness,
Provides adequate food, drinking water and bedding materials,
Is visited at suitable intervals,
Enclosure is large enough so that the animal(s) can take appropriate exercise,
A veterinary surgeon or practitioner authorized by the authority has inspected the premises and declared it suitable for the animal(s) to be living there.
License holders should:
Take appropriate steps for the protection of the animal(s) concerned in the event of a fire or other emergency,
Prevent and control the spread of infectious diseases.
These pieces of legislation make it very difficult for cub petting organizations to establish themselves in the UK. Anyone keeping lions, tigers and/or bears must acquire a dangerous wild animal’s license and holders are policed to ensure they are providing the best care for their animals. Early removal of cubs from their mothers and travel around the country to be held by members of the public would not be tolerated and animals will be quickly confiscated. What also makes it difficult for cub petting experiences is how often the animals would be on display to the public. If they are on show for more than seven days in a year, they are then seen as a zoological establishment and must acquire a zoo license in order to continue operating.
South Africa Legislation
South Africa have two pieces of legislation relating to the protection of animals and their welfare; Animals Protection Act 1962 and Performing Animals Protection Act 1935. There is also the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1993 which governs the organisations and management of animal welfare organisations. The South African Veterinary Foundation suggests that these acts are not entirely effective due to lack of regulations and provision for the registration of animal workers.
Despite these acts, breeding big cats, cub petting and canned hunting are all entirely legal in South Africa. There are an estimated 160 lion breeding establishments in the country and 8,000 captive lions as opposed to only 4, 000 which are wild.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the welfare of cubs used in cub petting experienced is often compromised in ways to extend their ‘petting time’ and to financially benefit the exhibitors.
Table 1: Typical development of tiger and lion cubs
· Begins eating solid food at 13 weeks.
· Completely weaned at 17 weeks.
· Groom litter mates at 9 weeks.
· Self-grooming at 12 weeks.
· Social play at 5 weeks (increases with age).
· Able to run at 25-30 days.
· Can keep up with pride and weaning begins at 2-3 months.
· Are weaned but still dependent on mother (up to month 16 or later) at 6-10 months.
· Eruption of permanent teeth and begins to take part in hunts at 9-12 months.
During the 8-12 week legal window in America, cubs require long periods of sleep and begin to roam and wander in order to test their muscles and develop coordination. However, during cub petting experiences, they are constantly awakened and are yanked back when they wander off. When they are not on show, they are confined to cages for hours and are unable to meet these needs. Cubs often squirm and wriggle while they are being used in these exhibits, and to ‘calm’ them, exhibitors will do one of two things.
Blowing in the face of a cub is said to relax them, however, their wild mothers use this as a form of punishment and to discipline their cubs. The cubs freeze in hopes that the blowing stops, rather than because they are calm. Cub keepers will also hold a cub under its front legs and bounce it up and down, which they say ‘resets’ them and is how they are treated by their mothers. Both of these statements are false. There is no way an adult lion or tiger can physically hold a cub like this. This bouncing is unnatural and causes stress to the cubs, which can lead to illness. In fact, many cubs used in mall cub petting show have been observed suffering with severe diarrhea, which the keepers will keep wiping off the floor and from their sore behinds, causing the cubs to screech in pain. Some cubs will also have their teeth and claws removed as to reduce the risk of injuring members of the public.
Although the 8-12 week rule applies to much of the US, in Florida, it is legal to use a cub for cub petting displays only if it weighs less than 25lbs. Exhibitors will often exploit this piece of legislation, by underfeeding the cubs or feeding them pills to bring on diarrhea to keep them as light as possible for as long as possible. Drugs are also often fed to cubs as another tactic to keep them calm while they are mollycoddled by tourists. These breeches of welfare standard for the cubs can be so severe that in one example, an exhibitor had 23 cubs die in 2010.
Exhibitors will often tell members of the public that these cubs have been rescued from mothers who have rejected them or who have been killed by poachers. More often than not, these statements are again, false, however, if they do happen to be true, parading cubs around the country to be handled by strangers in this manner is not a sufficient substitute upbringing for them. Hand-reared cubs should be brought up in a rich environment and raising them in isolation (away from other animals) can result in severe behavioral inadequacies. Bush et al suggests that “where home environment rearing is not possible, the cub should be provided with a non-human companion” (such as a domestic dog). Kloss and Lang, 1976, also write that “many hand raised cubs develop hair loss at 6-8 weeks, possibly due to some diet deficiency”. It is almost common sense that being make to partake in cub petting experiences is not in the best interest of the cubs, but rather that of their keepers.
In May, 2011, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV) declared that the public should be stopped from making direct contact with tigers due to the risk of illness. Zoonotic diseases (those which can transfer between human and animal) from big cats include ringworm, salmonella and rabies. The NASPHV said that “ringworm in 23 persons and multiple animal species was traced to a microporum canis infection in a hand reared zoo tiger cub”. The Center for Disease Control states that three quarters of all emerging infectious threats arise from zoonotic diseases, which also accounts for five of the six diseases they regard as top threats to national security. Internal Medicine have also estimated that 50 million people globally have been infected with zoonotic diseases since 2000 and as many as 78,000 have died.
Exhibitors of cubs will often tell members of the public, that these cub petting experiences directly benefit conservation and that the cubs are released into the wild when they’re grown, which entices people to part with their money. This however, is also false. No lions or tigers have ever been released into the wild and conservationists have made it clear, that none ever will be. Partly, because they are too valuable to the keepers to part with (see section 6) and partly because the individuals are completely unsuited to a wild life and will most likely die within the first year. These people may also say that although their cubs will not be released, the money made from the exhibits will go towards conserving their wild counterparts. This is also a lie as not a single lion, tiger or conservation charity have benefited from any profit made by these experiences and no conservationist or charity could justify the immense suffering of some individuals to ‘save’ others.
Habituation is a process by which an animal becomes gradually used to situations they would ordinarily avoid. A habituated animal cannot be returned to the wild, especially large carnivores, as they can cause conflict with local people. If an animal has been brought up being petting and fed by humans, when in the wild, it will seek out humans for food as it knows no other way of sustaining itself. This can frighten people and cause them to kill or severely injure the animal, seeing it as a threat. If strongly habituated to humans, animals cannot survive on their own, unless rehabilited to do so. Cub petting strongly habituates cubs to humans and unless they are going to be moved to a rehabilitation center after their use in the cub petting industry has come to an end (which is unlikely because it would cost about as much as the profit it would have generated to do so), they will not be able to be released into the wild.
Rehabilitating an animal in order to make it suitable to a wild life takes time, money and resources. If habituated to humans, this connection needs to break. The animal needs to be taught what foods that it will find in its wild environment are safe and suitable to eat and how to get them. In regards to big cats and other large predators, hunting techniques can be taught using timers, pulley systems and eventually live prey (as seen in the bobcat rehabilitation video below), where the food is dispensed and pulled across the enclosure, enticing the animals to chase it, developing muscles and hunting capabilities. This happens hours after humans have left the enclosure, in order to weaken the animals association of humans with food.
During the 8-12 week window in which cubs can legally be used for these experiences throughout much of America, lion and tiger cubs are both drinking milk and would only just be beginning the weaning process. However, as mentioned before, many are taken from their mothers prematurely, both to be able to breed from the female and to be able to profit from the cubs sooner. Being removed from their mothers too soon means the cubs aren’t receiving antibodies from their milk which results in a weakened immune system. Cubs also do not learn the valuable lessons of how to socialize with others of their kind or what to eat and how to get it, as they do not have the time to play and interact with their littermates. They are not taught how to behave as the species they are or how to survive in their wild environment. While ‘on tour’ as part of a cub petting experience, cubs do not have the opportunity to partake in as much exercise as they need in order to promote proper muscle development. This leads to underweight individuals who would not be physically able to hunt for themselves if they even thought to.
Growing out of the Petting Industry
Once cubs reach 12 weeks of age (3 months), they are legally no longer allowed to be used in cub petting experiences in the USA and become too dangerous to be in direct contact with members of the public. At this age, the breeders are left with an animal that they are losing money on (as carnivores are exceedingly expensive to keep). The longer they hold on to it, the more money they lose, so they try to reclaim some funds by selling it to hunting establishments overseas, zoos to be used in walking experiences or into the black market, where it is killed and its parts used in traditional Asian medicines.
Lion / Tiger Walks
This is usually the first stop for a male lion or tiger cub once they grow out of cub petting (as females are often taken back to breeders to produce the next generation of cubs) and works much in the same way. The animals are usually put on a leash and are strolled around by a paying tourist, much like a pet dog. Establishments charge around US$150 (Approx. GB£100) and promote themselves as being part of ‘conservation, research, rehabilitation and release’. Lion walks are common in many African countries, while places such as the infamous Tiger Temple in Thailand, offer leashed walks with tigers.
Traditional Asian Medicines
When these lions begin to grow older, they are moved into overcrowded enclosures to grow. Those who grow only small manes are killed (as few hunters pay to shoot a small maned lion) and their parts are sold to buyers in Asia to be used in traditional Asian medicines. Many tigers are killed to supply this demand as soon as they grow out of ‘walking’ and few are kept for canned hunting.
Tigers have been used for over 1,000 years in traditional Asian medicines, due to the belief that they possess great strength and supernatural powers. Many parts of the tiger are used including the bones, eyes, whiskers, teeth, dung, penis, brain, bile, nose leather, fat and claws and it is believed they are cure a wide range of ailments such as ulcers, malaria, cancer, stomach ache and rheumatism. They are often sold as raw ingredients or in the form of tiger wines, powder, balms and pills which are very popular throughout the Asian community despite the lack of scientific evidence that they work.
Since 2008 however, Asian traders began to show an interest in lion products as the decline in tiger populations became acute and getting hold of their parts became exceedingly difficult. Lion bones are in more recent years, being used as an alternative to tiger bones and they can sell for around $75 (£49.50) per lb or $5,000 (£3,300) for a whole skeleton (the skull alone can fetch $1,100 (£726)). Some hunters who partake in canned hunting do not wish to take most or any of the body home with them, which allows the breeders to sell the remains for a healthy profit. Many of the bones exported from Africa however, are illegal and have been obtained by poachers which is estimated to account for half of the total exports of lion bones.
Canned hunting (in which lions are commonly used) refers to the hunting of captive animals and is completely legal in South Africa. Hunters pay to kill an animal trapped inside an enclosure with either a hand-gun, shotgun or crossbow and can cost £5,000-20,000 (US$7,572.60-30,290.40 / SAR109,059.42-436,237.68) per kill. This business is becoming larger and larger and in 2012, it generated approximately 807 million South African Rand (US$70 million / GB£46.2 million). Hunters are attracted to canned as opposed to wild hunting by the guarantee of success and the low price (£5,000 to shoot a captive lion in South Africa and £50,000 (US$75,697 / SAR1,090,594.20) to shoot a wild lion in Tanzania).
In 2008, the South African government declared that an animal has to have roamed free for two years before it could be hunted, which by definition, banned canned hunting (this restricted the profitability of breeders significantly). However, just three years later in 2011, lion breeders challenged this policy and South African courts and a high court judge ruled that such restrictions were ‘not rational’, and the policy was reversed. This resulted in the number of trophy hunted animals to soar. In 2001-06, 1,830 lion trophies were exported from South Africa and in 2006-11, this increased to 4,062, a 122% increase (the vast majority of which were captive bred).
Hunters and keepers of these establishments have defended their sport by proclaiming that it helps the conservation of wild lions and that ‘for every captive lion killed, a wild lion is saved’. This is based on the assumption that ‘every hunter who is prevented from shooting a tame lion will go out a shoot a wild one’. This claim have been proven false however, as wild populations of lions have declined by 80% in the last 20 years. A statistic which has proven that the rise of lion farms and canned hunting has not protected thm. In fact, some suggest that it is actually fueling this decline by putting a clear price tag on the head of every wild lion, and promoting illegal poaching.
Celebrities hold a colossal level of influence over the public and serve as arbiters of morality and opinion. Many companies exploit this influence by featuring them in advertisements for their products. In the USA, one in four ads feature a celebrity, in Europe, celebrity endorsed adverts account for 16% of the total. In Asia, this figure increases to an astonishing 70%. According to the Global Consumer Trends Survey of 2013, 10% of consumers say celebrities are their main inspiration for purchasing a product.
26.2 million followers
14.2 million followers
The sheer level of influence celebrities have over their fan base was made apparent earlier this year (2015) when One Direction star, Harry Styles, urged his fans to boycott SeaWorld. Following this, SeaWorld reported in August, an 84% drop in earnings during the second quarter of 2015 (they had only a 2% decrease during the same period only a year earlier in 2014). Other factors which may have contributed to this drop however, include the 2013 documentary, Blackfish and according to SeaWorld, “large amounts of rain in Texas and brand challenges in California.”
Many people with celebrity status however, do seemingly innocent things, more often than not, in full ignorance of the consequences of their actions both on their fans and the animals involved. Earlier this year, Beyoncé and husband, Jay Z posted a picture on social media of them bottle feeding a tiger cub with their daughter for their millions of followers to see.
14.1 million followers
52.5 million followers
8,501,701 subscribers (BeyonceVEVO)
248,406 subscribers (JayZVEVO)
Other celebrities to have posed with tigers, lions and their cubs include:
17.3 million followers
36.7 million followers
4.97 million followers
1.5 million followers
35.7 million followers
14.2 million followers
7,682,604 subscribers (to ShakiraVEVO)
53.1 million followers
30.1 million followers
17,986,824 subscribers (to RhiannaVEVO)
Celebrities should set a humane example, not an exploitative one, as their potential for influence is massive.”…”Tigers can kill, whether wild or captive, and every unwitting child who chooses to pose with a tiger as a result of seeing celebrities do so is at risk. Imagine if Beyoncé and Jay Z decided to expose tigers to the world by supporting their conservation in the wild instead.”
-Adam M, Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA
These people most likely are not aware of how partaking in these experiences compromises the welfare of the animals involved, as are a huge proportion of the general public. These celebrities are not doing this with the knowledge that the cubs will be moving into canned hunting establishments or sold on the black market to supply ingredients for traditional medicines, they are not at fault. However, the breeders of big cats and exhibitors of cubs know how to manipulate the public into parting with their cash and, just like any other industry, will use the status and influence of celebrities to endorse their ‘product’.
Many celebrities however, seem to be aware of their influence and use it to promote good animal welfare and to speak against cub petting and canned hunting. Just a few examples include:
Ian Somehalder created a foundation in his name (Ian Somehader Foundation) which educated the public about issued affecting animals, such as exotic pet ownership, pet overpopulation and the importance of pollinators. He also called out his ex and co-star, Nina Dobrev on Twitter after she posted pictures feeding tiger cubs.
Tippi Hedren owned a male lion named Neil, which lived in her house and slept on her daughter’s bed. She now, however, speaks out against owning big cats as pets and owns a big cat sanctuary. She is also working towards a ban against them being bred for pets.
Ricky Gervais frequently calls out trophy hunters on social media and calls for an end to trophy and canned hunting of big cats and other megafauna.
It is apparent that cub petting, canned hunting and lion/tiger walks benefits no-one but breeders and hunters. They are skilled at convincing members of the public that they benefit the conservation of wild animals, and that their cubs are orphans and have good homes to go to once their grown or are released into the wild, all of which are false statements. Apex predators are integral to the balance of ecosystems and play a huge role in natural selection. By eliminating weaker individuals from prey species herds, they reduce genetic problems and increase genetic fitness in future generations. Lions are currently classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN and tigers, ‘endangered’. These industries which claim to benefit the conservation of these species have yet to do so.
This particular subject was very difficult to write. When writing these reports, I try to be as unbiased as possible and to present a balanced argument, however, in the month I spent researching this subject, I found absolutely no evidence to suggest that cub petting, canned hunting or lion and tiger walks benefit anyone but the breeders and keepers than run these industries. Personally, I think it would be in the best interest of the cubs and the wild populations of these species, for these practices to come to an end.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and I hope you found it enlightening and informative. You can help to bring cub petting and canned hunting to and end by refusing to partake in such experiences (no matter how tempting it may be) and to educate family and friends, maybe even share this report with them. If anyone has any further questions, feel free to get in touch with me.
Bush, M., Philips, L., Montali, R., Dierenfeld, E., Hakala, S., Traylor-Holzer, K., Binczik, G. and Tilson, R (2015) Management and Conservation of Captive Tigers [Online] Available at: https://www.tigerlink.org/husbandry/husman6.htm [Accessed: 28 November 2015]
Lindsey, P., Alexander, R., Balme, G., Midlane, N and Craig, J (2012) South African Journal of Wildlife Research. Possible Relationships Between the South-African Captive Bred Lion Hunting Industry and the Hunting and Conservation of Lions Elsewhere in Africa. 42(1): 11-22
Polyphagy: “The habit of feeding on many different kinds of food.”
Most large animals will feed on multiple foods. For example, a cheetah is a carnivore but will eat different meats such as rabbits, antelopes, warthogs and ostrich.
Monophagy: “Feeding on only one kinds of food.”
Some animals will only eat one specific kind of food, often known as ‘specialists’. An example of a specialist animal is the koala, which only eats eucalyptus leaves.
The suffixes of most of the following words are either ‘vore’ which is derived from the Latin word ‘vorare’ meaning ‘to devour’ or ‘phagy’, which is derived from the Greek word ‘φαγειν’ meaning ‘to eat’.
An animal that eats the meat from other animals.
Grey wolf (Canis lupus)
Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)
Common buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Feeding on or eating spiders.
Blackbird (Turdus merula)
Cellar spider (Pholicidae)
Common toad (Bufo bufo)
Feeding on or eating birds.
Eurasian sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
Leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx)
Goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi)
The consumption of hard-shelled organisms (coral, invertebrates and bamboo)
The neck of the polar bear is longer and the head is narrower than other species of bear which help the bear capture seals from their breathing holes in the sea ice. The paws are large and covered in fur which are used as paddles when swimming and as snow shoes on land. Polar bears have only four teats which is relative to their small litter size. Polar bears are the largest land carnivore alive in the world today with the males being larger and heavier than the females. The males weigh 880-1,750lbs (399-794kg) and the females weigh 440-660lbs (200-299kg).
Shark finning is killing millions of shark every year and pushing many species to extinction. This practice is being carried out across the globe, where sharks are being caught by fishing boats and having their fins removed. The live bodies are then thrown back into the ocean and the fins taken back to markets, where they are used in Asian delicacy ‘shark fin soup’ and traditional medicines. The sharks then die either from starvation, drowning or from being eaten alive by other fish.
This slaughter is being carried out at an unsustainable rate and since the 1970’s, the populations of many shark and ray species have declined by over 95% (Stop Shark Finning, 2013). Records are very rarely kept of the numbers of species being caught and estimates are made based on declared imports to shark fin markets (such as Hong Kong and China). Longlines, which are used during shark finning trips, are the most significant cause of declines in shark populations globally and finners add to this decline by taking any shark and ray they come across, regardless of age, size or species.
Shark finning is widely seen as a barbaric practice due to the tendency to throw live animals back into the sea once finned. Sharks and rays need their fins to be able to swim and thus move oxygenated water through their gills. These finned animals lie on the sea bed, unable to move and either drown, starve to death or are eaten alive by other animals. Shark meat is considered to have low value on the market and so their bulky bodies are not worth transporting back. The trade in shark fins is a multi-billion dollar industry, with a single pound of dried shark fin being sold for $300 at market.
Import and Export
Data on the catch and trade of shark and ray fins suffers from inaccuracies caused by poor, under and mis-reporting and the availability of data on specific species is limited. There is currently no universal Customs codes for sharks and rays and only a few counties report in specific species. Also most meat and fin trade is reported on more general terms, such as fresh and frozen shark meat, shark fins and other shark products. There is currently no universal codes for rays specifically (TRAFFIC, 2013).
The information in Box.1 shows the top 20 shark catching countries in descending order. These countries collectively accounted for 80% of the total shark catch reported globally between 2002 and 2011. Indonesia and India were responsible for 20% of that number. Furthermore, Argentina, Mexico, Malaysia, Pakistan, Brazil, Thailand, Nigeria, Iran, Sri Lanka and Yemen were responsible for over 25% (TRAFFIC, 2013).
Figure 2 (TRAFFIC, 2013 pg.6) shows the top 20 importers and exporters of shark products between 2000 and 2009 and were responsible for over 90% of global trade during that period. It is estimated that the fins of over 73 million sharks are traded annually. Other countries / territories that imported over 100 tonnes of shark products between 2000-09 include:
South Africa (204 tonnes)
Philippines (212 tonnes)
Chile (188 tonnes)
Colombia (172 tonnes)
Bolivar Republic of Venezuela (145 tonnes)
Marshall Islands (131 tonnes)
Togo (129 tonnes)
Maldives (128 tonnes)
Republic of Congo (126 tonnes)
Top 20 Shark Catchers
Republic of Korea
Islamic Republic of Iran
United States of America
Impacts of Finning
Common species involved in the practice of shark finning include:
Oceanic Whitetip Shark
Reef Manta Ray
Great White Shark
Impacts to Sharks
Cruel and Wasteful
The process of shark finning involves cutting off all fins from a captured shark or ray and then discarding the body (often still alive) back into the sea. This is a wasteful as cruel practice as 99% of the shark is wasted. Shark meat is not as highly valued as fins on the market, and so the fisherman save on space by throwing unwanted products away. Shark finning is currently the biggest threat facing sharks and undoes the principles and work of sustainable fisheries management and conservation.
Declines in Shark Populations
Sharks are being caught for finning at a rate of 88-100 million a year and at this rate, sharks could become entirely extinct in as little at 10-20 years (Heimbuch, 2012). Most sharks grow and mature slowly and after long gestation periods, give birth to one or two large pups. This means, if a threat (such as shark finning) is introduced, shark populations can decline rapidly and recover slowly. Some species may continue to decline and become regionally extinct. Currently, the IUCN Red List as classified 135 species of chondrichthyan fish (sharks, skates, rays and chimeras) as Vulnerable, and a further 106 species as Near Threatened.
Declines in Body Size and Condition
Unsustainable shark finning can also cause a decline in body mass and size in some species. Surveys have been conducted and compares sharks from the 1950’s and the 1990’s and found shark size to be significantly smaller in the latter years, 50% or more in some species. In a trade where larger individuals are valued highly, this leaves only smaller sharks available for breeding, and of course, small sharks produce small sharks (Shark Savers, 2015).
Threats from Longlining
Large fishing fleets that fish for tuna and other highly valued fish species use long lining to catch their target. This is when thousands of baited hooks on miles of long line carpet the ocean floor. These often catch many times the number of sharks than tuna and until recently, the shark bycatch was a nuisance and sharks were cut loose and allowed to swim free. However, since the demand and value of shark fin has increased, many sharks that become caught in long lines are taken. Bycatch is not officially landed and so data on the extent of it are limited.
Impacts to Humans
Bio-Magnification of Mercury
Shark meat has been known to contain high levels of poisonous mercury which enters the ocean from pollutants. High levels of this neurotoxin can result from a process known as bio-magnification, where mercury builds up and increases in concentration higher up the food chain. As sharks are the apex predator of most marine environments, they can have concentrations of mercury as much as 10,000 times that of their surrounding environment. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the legal limit of consumption of methyl-mercury is 0.1 microgram per kg of body weight and studies have found that some shark meat can contain as much as 1,400 micrograms of mercury per kg. This means that a person weighing 155lbs eating a single portion of shark steak, would be ingesting 50x the legal amount. Some shark fins from China have also be found to contain arsenic, so much so that they exceeded China’s national guidelines for marine products by 13-32x (Fin Free, 2015).
Medical risks of ingesting mercury include:
Increased risk of heart disease.
Harm to brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system.
Harm to the developing nervous system of young children and unborn babies, resulting in them being less able to think and learn.
Increased risk of autism in children.
Interference with blood pressure regulation in adults.
Impairment of peripheral vision and disturbances in sensations (pins and needles).
Tremors, emotional changes, insomnia, weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching, headaches, changes in nerve responses and performance deficits in tests of cognitive function.
Low sperm count, erectile dysfunction and sterility in men.
High amounts of mercury can cause death.
Loss of Ecotourism
Living sharks have been found to benefit local economies through ecotourism. Healthy shark populations support healthy ecosystems, which in turn support both ecotourism and sustainable fishing and recent studies have shown that in areas where sharks have been overfished, the sustainable income from ecotourism is lost. Divers have listed sharks are the number one animal they want to see when diving and spend a lot of money when doing so. On average, it costs US$3,400 per person to go on a diving trip (UK£2,239). In 2004, reef sharks brought US$78 million to the Bahamas via ecotourism (Gallagher and Hammerschlag, 2011).
Exploitation of Artisanal Fisheries
Artisanal fisheries are small scale operations and use traditional and low-tech harvesting methods, with their catch being used for local consumption rather than for sale at export markets. If sharks become overfished by large scale fisheries (LSF), marine ecosystems become depleted of fish. The removal of sharks can results in trophic cascades and complex changes which include large declines of valuable commercial fish, such as tuna (Thunnini).
LSF have also been known to illegally enter the Economic Exclusive Zones of developing countries to fish for sharks and may also engage in destructive practices, such as bombing reefs and using poisons. This leaves artisanal fisheries unable to catch and sell fish, leaving them out of pocket. After paying for fuel and the wages of the crew, captain and boat owner, the fishermen received less than 10% of the profit made. Fishing trips made by artisanal fisheries average at just US$4 each and 8 out of every 22 trips lost money. The scale at which sharks are fished is unsustainable. In one example, in West Africa, catches for shark fisherman climbed until 2005, then suddenly dropped by 50% in just three years.
Impacts to Ecosystems
Sharks are an apex predator and a key stone species, meaning they are at the top of their food chain and without them, their ecosystem falls apart. Sharks regulate prey populations and keep them healthy by eating the sick and old. This prevents the spread of potentially devastating disease and strengthens their gene pools.
Sharks also influence the behaviour of prey species through what is known as the ‘intimidation factor’. This prevents prey species from overgrazing certain areas and studies have found that a greater number of sharks in an area can be associated with a high cover of reef building corals and low levels of coral disease. Healthy marine ecosystems are better able to recover from disease and warm periods that result from global warming.
One study, carried out in the mid-Atlantic parts of the US where 11 species of shark were virtually wiped out found that the population of cownrose ray (Rhinoptera bonasus) grew rapidly and decimated local populations of bay scallops (Argopecten irradians). Scallop fishery operations in the area, which has been thriving for over 100 years, become out of business, dropping to only 13% of its high profit.
Another study carried out in Hawaii found that tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) have a positive impact on the health of sea grass beds. Using their intimidation factor, tiger sharks regulated the behaviours of sea turtles and kept them from overgrazing particular areas.
Uses of Shark and Ray Products
Shark Fin Soup
Shark fin soup is a traditional Asian delicacy and has been used in celebrations for over 2,000 years. It is associated with wealth, honor and good fortune and is one of the ‘eight treasured foods of the sea’ (the other seven being bird’s nest, abalone, sea cucumber, fish maw, scallops, fish lips and roe). Hosts of celebrations such as weddings and New Year gatherings are considered cheap, if shark fin soup is not served.
Over the last 30 years since 1980, people eating shark fin soup have risen from just a few million to over 300 million today. A 2006 survey carried out by Wild Aid and the Chinese Wildlife Association found that 35% of participants had consumed shark fin soup in the previous year.
Shark fin soup is an expensive commodity, with a single bowl costing upwards of US$100 (UK£65). Different shark species can impact the price with rarer sharks being more valuable. The use of whole fins (as opposed to pieces) can also drive up the price of a bowl. The fins however, are flavourless and are only really used as a thickening agent. The flavor of the soup is derived from broths and stocks (most commonly chicken).
Traditional / Alternate Medicines
Shark cartilage (also referred to as chondroitin) is used as an alternative medicine and is sold around the world in the form of pills and powders. It is believed to have multiple benefits to people suffering from all sorts of problems including:
This is a highly unsustainable market which contributes to shark population declines and diverts patients from effective treatments, despite the lack of clinical evidence that these supplements have any beneficial effects.
Oils derived from shark liver (known as squalene and squalane) is also used in medicines. It is sold in the form of pills or capsules and is thought to prevent cancer as well as provide a boost to the immune system, promote the healing of wounds, aid general debility and alleviate irritations of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. It is commonly found in medicinal creams, such as preparation H and pharmaceutical giants, such as Novartis, include it in their vaccines to increase their efficiency, including malaria and pandemic flu (including swine and bird) vaccines.
Rays are also targeted for their products to supply the traditional / alternate medicine market. Their gill rakers, which are used to filter plankton from the sea water, are sold in dried and powdered forms and are offered as an alternative to shark cartilage as it becomes harder to find. The powdered gill rakers are also known as ‘peng yu sai’ and it is claimed that it can reduce toxins in the blood by cooling and purifying it as well as reduce body temperature and aid blood circulation.
Do Sharks Get Cancer?
In 2013, researchers in Australia found a great white shark with a large tumor on its mouth, measuring 1ft wide and 1ft long. They also found a bronze whaler shark (Carcharhinus brachyurus) with a tumor protruding from its head. Since this discovery, scientists have discovered tumors in 23 species of shark.
Reports of cancerous tumors in marine animals has risen over the past 20 years and it is thought that industrial pollutants and human activities may be to blame. A recent study has also found that in areas near aluminum smelting plants, cancer is the second leading killer of whales.
Squalane and squalene is an oil derived from the liver of sharks which is used by a range of companies across the globe in their cosmetic products. This oil can come from both animals and plants however, the majority of which used in cosmetics is shark-based. Due to recent pressures on companies, those not using shark-based oils, label the oil as ‘vegetable’, vegetable based’ or from ‘vegetable origin’. Products that squalene and squalane is used in include:
The oil also has industrial uses as a lubricant and cleaning agent.
Squalene and squalane is the same oil and both can be derived from sharks, however, squalene is more commonly used in personal products as it is less susceptible to oxidation and squalane is a saturated form of squalene. Here, the double bonds have been eliminated by hydrogen. Squalene and squalane can be found in many vegetable based products which are cheaper, of better quality and more readily available than the oil derived from shark liver. These include olives, amaranth seeds, rice bran, wheat germ, fungi and date palm.
Meat as Food
Shark and ray meat is commonly consumed all over the world and has been popular throughout Asia for years. In Asian countries, such as Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and China, the meat, skin and organs of shark and rays are eaten and salmon shark (Lamna ditropis) heart is a popular sashimi treat.
United States of America: Popularity of shark and ray meat has risen and is quite common to see thresher (Alopias) and mako for sale at local supermarkets. Both species are considered vulnerable and at risk of extinction.
Europe: There is a high demand for the meat of smoothhounds (Mustelus), catsharks (Scyliorhinidae), makos, porbeagle, skates (Rajidae) and rays (Batoidea) and is sold in many major supermarkets.
Australia: Several species are commonly consumed and purchases large amounts of smoothhound shark meat.
South Africa: Gully (Triakis megalopterus) and sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus and Heptranchias perlo) are commonly caught and consumed.
Iceland: Commonly catch Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus) for use in hákarl (fermented shark) which is a national dish.
It has also been documented that fish & chip shops, restaurants and stores will often change the same of the meat in order to entice consumers to buy shark meat unknowingly. The spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias) for example, has different names in many countries. The UK market it as ‘rock salmon’ or ‘huss’, France as ‘saumonette’ (little salmon) and Germany as ‘schillerlocken’ (locks of Schiller) and ‘seeaal’ (sea eel). Australia and New Zealand will also rename Australian ghostshark (Callorhinchus milii) as whitefish fillets or flake.
Shark meat is also used as an ingredient in composite fish products such as surimi (artificial crab, lobster and shrimp), smoke fish strips, dried fish stock and whitefish. Byproducts of shark and ray are also used in fishmeal (used to feed livestock) and fertilizers.
Shark and Ray Leather
The skin of sharks and rays have been used to make leather for decades which is used in both fashion and furniture. In recent years it has become exceedingly popular, due to its durability, and celebrities such as Will Smith, have been seen wearing it. Tory Burch, Jimmy Choo and Nike also use shark and ray skin in many of their products.
This leather is commonly found in the US, Germany, Thailand, France, China and Japan and it used to make a variety of luxury products, including watch straps, boots, handbags and wallets etc. According to the United Nations, the following species are the most popular for use in fashion:
Lemon shark (Negaprio brevirostris),
Dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus),
Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum),
Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus),
Short fin mako shark,
Scalloped hammerhead shark,
Scaly whip ray (Himantura imbricata),
Shagreen is a material which, in the past, was made from horse hide and is now more commonly manufactured from shark and ray skin. It is popular with ornamental woodworking as it is very effective as a sandpaper. It can also be dyed as used to make luxury furniture items and book bindings.
Shark and ray parts are sold in gift shops in close proximity with the sea all over the world and often come in the form of teeth, entire jaws, dried sharks and sharks preserved in bottles. Recently, shark teeth are becoming more popular for use in high-end jewelry. Shark and ray souvenirs are highly available at websites such as ebay, however, species such as white shark, whale shark (Rhincodon typus) and basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) are protected by CITIES and are illegal to trade but are still openly available on the market. Many species of shark, included protected species, can be found for sale on the illegal black market, where the complete jaw of a white shark will go for as much as $10,000 USD (£6,525 GBP).
Shark cartilage is also found in dietary supplements for pets (usually to aid joint health). The meat can be found in both dog and cat food and the skin in chew toys. In Japan particularly, chondroitin is also found in many energy and health drinks.
Laws and Legislation
As we learn more about sharks and rays we discover how damaging finning can be and as such, people rally for the protection and conservation of such species. Conservation efforts for sharks and rays can include areas of seasonal closure, catch quotas, gear restrictions and bans in the trade of shark fins. However, many laws and legislations that exist today have large loopholes that many people exploit and others are ineffective due to lack of political will and/or funding to enforce them.
Shark fishing and possession of sharks within three nautical miles of shoreline was banned in Nov 2012.
Shark finning is banned in an area of 1.9 million km2.
The possession and sale of shark products became banned in December 2012.
In July 2011, Fiji announced pending legislation to ban all shark fishing and sale in shark products.
In 2012, French Polynesia permeantly banned shark fishing and trade in all sharks.
Commercial fishing of sharks is prohibited in all of the Marshall Islands (1,990,530km2). Any shark caught accidentally by fishing vessels must be set free.
Possession and sale of any sharks or shark products is prohibited.
All shark fishing is prohibited in Palau (604,289km2).
All shark fishing if prohibited in Tokelau (319,031km2).
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
Possession, sale and trade of shark fins was prohibited in January 2011 (with an exception for subsistence fishing).
Possession, sale and trade of shark fins and ray parts was prohibited in March 2011 (with an exception for subsistence fishing).
States and Territories govern their own waters, which extend to three nautical miles offshore. Central government regulates ‘Commonwealth’ (Federal) waters, from three to 200 nautical miles offshore. Most States and Territories ban finning, and some require that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached.
All shark fishing, sale and trade in shark products was banned in the Bahamas in July 2011.
Moratorium on shark fishing while permeant shark protections are under review. Affording sharks an area of 240,240 km2 of protection.
Possession, sale and trade of shark fins is prohibited in the state as of July 1, 2010 (2,474, 884km2).
Possession, sale and trade of shark fins was prohibited (with an exception for dogfish).
Possession and sale of shark fins was prohibited in May 2011.
Possession and sale of shark fins was prohibited in October 2011.
Possession and sale of shark fins was prohibited in July 2012.
Finning in Canadian waters and by any Canadian licensed vessel fishing outside of Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is prohibited. When landed, the fins must not weigh more than 5% of the dressed weight of the shark.
All sharks must be landed with their fins fully or partially attached in the natural way in all federal waters (with an exemption for smooth dogfish).
The practice of retaining fins and discarding carcasses is banned.
Prohibits landing of shark fins without the corresponding carcasses. The total weight of fins shall not exceed 5% of the total weight of carcasses and fins must be unloaded and weighed and the weights reported to the authorities.
Sharks must be landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies.
All sharks must be landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies.
Regulation AJDIP/47-2001 required fins to be landed attached to shark carcasses. This was replaced by AJDIP/415-2003, permitting fins to be landed separately from carcasses, but the ‘fins-attached’ requirement was reinstated in 2006.
Directed fishing for sharks is banned in all Ecuadorian waters, but sharks caught in ‘continental’ (i.e. not Galapagos) fisheries may be landed if bycaught. Sharks must be landed with fins attached in all fisheries. A previous ban on trade in shark fins was lifted in 2007.
Shark finning is prohibited. Sharks must be landed with at least 25% of each fin still attached in the natural way. The sale or export of fins is prohibited (be they fresh, frozen or dried) without the corresponding body.
Shark finning is prohibited. Shark fins must not be landed unless the bodies are on board the vessel. In 2011, Mexico banned shark fishing from May-August each year.
Prohibits vessels from having fins on board or from landing fins that weight more than 5% of the total weight of the sharks. Those who wish to export fins must first prove that the meat has been sold.
All shark finning is prohibited in Congo-Brazzaville (966mk2).
Shark finning is prohibited throughout Egyptian Red Sea territorial waters to 12 miles from the shore as is the commercial sale of sharks.
Shark finning is prohibited throughout the EEZ.
Namibia generally prohibits discards of harvested or bycaught marine resources. Namibia’s National Shark Plan, adopted in 2003, recommends the formulation of legislation under the Marine Resources Act to prohibit finning of any shark species.
Fins may not be removed on board a vessel unless authorization is granted. Applicants are required to produce evidence that they have the capacity to utilize all parts of the shark. Fins may not be transshipped. Fins landed separately from carcasses by weigh no more than 5% (after evisceration) or 7% (after evisceration and beheading).
Sharks caught in South African waters must be landed, transported, sold or disposed of whole (they can be headed and gutted). However, fins from sharks caught in international waters may be landed in South Africa with fins detached from carcasses.
All elasmobranchs are protected in Israeli waters (27,346 km2).
All shark fishing is prohibited in the Republic of the Maldives (916,189km2).
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
All shark fishing is prohibited in the Regent of Raja Ampat (46,000km2).
Sharks must be landed, transported, sold or disposed of whole. It is strictly forbidden to throw away any shark part or shark waste in the sea for the shores of the Sultanate of Oman. It is also prohibited to land shark fins separated from the body, unless otherwise authorized by competent authority.
Bans shark fishing for domestic fleets, but excludes “fishing vessels within the area of competence of international fisheries organisations and unloaded at foreign ports.”
England and Wales
All sharks must be landed with their fins naturally attached.
Prohibits finning in EU waters and by EU vessels worldwide. Required sharks to be landed with fins naturally attached, unless a Special Permit has been issued to allow onboard removal of fins and landing in separate ports.
It is illegal to have shark fins onboard without the corresponding carcasses. Compliance is verified through the use of a conservation system of fins to carcass weight.
Regional Fisheries Shark Finning Regulations
International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) – 2004: The ICCAT finning ban required full utilization (defined as retention by the fishing vessel of all parts of the shark excepting head, guts and skins, to the point of first landing) of entire shark catches. Fins should not total more than 5% of the weight of the sharks onboard. Does not specify if it is whole or dressed weight.
General Fisheries Commission of the Mediterranean (GFCM) – 2005: Same as ICCAT. Requires full utilization (defined as retention by the fishing vessel of all parts of the shark excepting head, guts and skins, to the point of first landing) of entire shark catches. Fins should not total more than 5% of the weight of the sharks onboard.
Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) – 2005: Same as ICCAT. Requires full utilization (defined as retention by the fishing vessel of all parts of the shark excepting head, guts and skins, to the point of first landing) of entire shark catches. Fins should not total more than 5% of the weight of the sharks onboard.
Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) –2005: Same as ICCAT. Requires full utilization (defined as retention by the fishing vessel of all parts of the shark excepting head, guts and skins, to the point of first landing) of entire shark catches. Fins should not total more than 5% of the weight of the sharks onboard.
Southeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission (SEAFO) –2006: Same as ICCAT. Requires full utilization (defined as retention by the fishing vessel of all parts of the shark excepting head, guts and skins, to the point of first landing) of entire shark catches. Fins should not total more than 5% of the weight of the sharks onboard.
North Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) –2005: Similar to ICCAT and IATTC.
Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) –2008: Full utilization (retention of all parts of the shark excepting heads, guts and skins), to the first point of landing or transshipment of retained sharks. Fins should make up no more than 5% of the weight of sharks on board. Fins may be landed and transshipped separately.
Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) –2006: Directed fishing on shark species in the Convention Area, for purposes other than scientific research, is prohibited. Incidental catch of sharks taken in other fisheries should be released alive as far as possible.
North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) –2007: Full utilization (all parts of the shark except head and guts to the point of first landing) of entire shark catches required. Shark fins should not total more than 5% of the weight of the sharks. Fins may be landed and transshipped separately from other shark parts.
Reccomendations and Resolutions on Shark Finning
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) – 1999: The International Plan of Action for sharks calls on all States to minimize waste and discards, such as thorough requiring the retention of sharks from which fins are removed.
United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) –2007: Calls on all states to consider requiring sharks to be landed with their fins naturally attached.
IUCN –World Conservation Union – 2008: Calls on States with fisheries that capture sharks, whether in directed fishery activities or as accidental bycatch of other fisheries, to require at the point of first landing that sharks be landed only if their fins are naturally attached to their bodies, though allowing for partial detachment of fins to permit efficient storage and species identification.
United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement –2010: Calls on all States to consider requiring sharks to be landed with their fins naturally attached.
Marine Protected Areas
Marine Protected Areas (MPA) are also known as Marine Parks, Marine Reserves and Marine Sanctuaries and as of February 2009, there were approximately 5,000 of them worldwide. However, 0.8% of the world’s oceans are actually included in them. An MPA does not necessarily mean that fishing is prohibited for all species at all times, many are created to benefit fisheries management. Many MPA’s are ‘multiple-use’, meaning there are designated ‘take’ and ‘no take’ zones while others are seasonal / temporary management according to nature, meaning that fishing is restricted seasonally to let the local ecosystem recuperate.
Due to the high demand for shark and ray products, illegal fishing for sharks occurs in nearly any MPA that has sharks and rays in their waters, regardless of their protection status. For instance, the Galapagos and Cocos, both of which are World Heritage Sites and have protected shark populations, have high levels of illegal shark fishing. Many MPAs are underfunded and/or managed by corrupt officials, who are quick to turn a blind eye to these illegal activities and have no intent on enforcing legal laws and legislation.
The Coco’s Marine Reserve: 972 km2
The Galapagos Marine Reserve: 6,937 km2
The British Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean’s No Take Zone: 554,000 km2
Sala y Gomez Island, Chile, No Take Zone: 150,000 km2
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Area (1/3 of the reef): 100,00 km2
Case Study: Cocos Island National Park
Marine Protected Area
UNESCO World Heritage Site
550km off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica
The only island in the tropical eastern Pacific with a tropical rainforest
Divers rate it as one of the best places in the world to view large pelagic species.
Does not allow inhabitants other than Costa Rican park ranges.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), also known as the Washington Convention, was officially founded in 1975 and is defined as “an international agreement between governments which aims to ensure that the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival”. This includes the trade in live animals and plants as well as any product derived from them, including food products, leather goods, clothing, furniture, timber, wooden musical instruments and medicine. CITES includes 181 parties and offers varying levels of protection (appendices) to more than 35,000 species.
Appendix I: Included in this appendix are species threatened with extinction and trade in the live specimens or any of their products is only permitted in exceptional circumstances and with appropriate permits and paperwork.
Appendix II: Included in this appendix are species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction but is considered that trade in live specimens or any products derived from them should be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.
Appendix III: Included in this appendix are species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked for the assistance of other CITES members in controlling the trade.
Penalties can be issued to anyone, individual or business, found to be trading the live specimens or any products of species that are listed on any of the three appendices and include fines and/or prison sentences. Examples of such include:
Australia: Fine of up to AUD 110,000 and/or up to ten years in prison for an individual and a fine of up to AUD 550,000 for businesses.
Canada: Fine of between CAD 25,000-150,000 and/or 6 months to five years in prison for an individual and a fine of between CAD 50,000-300,000 for a business.
Switzerland: A fine of up to CHF 100,000 and/or up to a year in prison for any offenders.
Hungary: A fine of between EUR 20-4,000 for an individual and a business.
Latvia: A maximum fine of EUR 441 for an individual and a maximum fine of EUR 8,824 for a business.
The 16th meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP16, Bangkok) took place in March 2013 in which CITES made a decision to accept Committee recommendations to list five species of shark, all of which highly impacted by trade, as well as both manta rays and one species of sawfish. This notion received more than the two-thirds majority of votes necessary for adoption and the sawfish listing succeeded by consensus.
This development met with opposition at the meeting. Japan (backed by Gambia and India) challenged the decision to list the oceanic whitetip shark and Grenada and China attempted to reopen debate on the listing of three hammerhead species, and failed. Proponents of the decision totaled of 27 member states including USA, EU, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, Comoros, Colombia, Egypt, Honduras, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Croatia.
Great white shark
Reef manta ray
Giant manta ray
California: A fine of up to $1,000 (£651), imprisonment of up to 6 months or both.
Hawaii: On the first offense, a fine of $5,000-15,000 (£3,257-9,972). On the second offense, a fine of up to $35,000 (£22,802). On the third offense, a fine of up to $50,000 (£32,575) and possible prison time.
Class A misdemeanor where the shark in question valued at less than $300 (£195). A fine of between $500-5,000 (£325-3257), up to a year in prison or community service.
Class 4 Felony where multiple violations have been carried out within a 90 day period with each resulting in less than $300 in value, but collectively result in over $300 in value. A fine of between $10,000-100,000 (£6,515-651,508) and 1-4 years imprisonment.
Class 3 Felony where the sharks in question valued at over $300. A fine of between $25,000-750,000 (£16,287-488,631) and 2-3 years imprisonment.
Oregon: A fine of up to $2,500 (£1,628).
Gross misdemeanor from selling or preparing shark fins for commercial use. A fine of up to $5,000 and up to one year imprisonment.
Class C felony where the sharks in question valued at $250 (£162) or more. A fine of between $25,000-750,000 and 2-3 years imprisonment.
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: A fine of between $5,000-30,000 (£3,257-19,545) and up to six months imprisonment.
Guam: A fine of between $500-1,000 (£325-651) and up to five years imprisonment.
American Samoa: A fine of between $500-1,000 and up to six months imprisonment.
Delaware: A fine of between $250-1,000.
Maryland: On the first offense, a fine of up to $1,000 and on the second offense, a fine of up to $2,000 (£1,303) and up to one year imprisonment.
New York: A minimum fine of $250 and up to 15 days imprisonment.
Massachusetts: A fine of between $500-1,000, imprisonment of up to 60 days and a possible suspension of all fishing privileges.
In 2012 the San Francisco’s Chinatown Neighborhood Association and Asian American Political Advancement filed a lawsuit against California’s state ban on shark fin sales. They claimed the ban was discriminatory against people of Chinese origin for whom the consumption of shark fins is a cultural tradition. They also added that California’s shark fin ban violates US equal protection and interstate commercial laws and is overridden by federal laws governing shark fin sales and aimed to seek a court order declaring the state ban unconstitutional.
The US District Judge, Phyllis Hamilton, denied the plaintiffs motion for a preliminary injunction for the following conclusions:
The court found that there was support for the shark fin ban within the Chinese community and there was strong public interest for the ban in regards to conservation, animal welfare and public health.
The plaintiffs did not show that the needs of merchants, importers or restaurateurs outweighed the interests of the legislatures which include protecting marine ecosystems by eliminating a product that drives the practice of shark finning.
The harm the plaintiffs’ claimed (loss of business / profit) was not considered irreparable by the court.
Evidence did not show that all Chinese-Americans believed that a ban on buying and selling shark fins violates the Chinese cultural traditions. It was found that many adhere to a cultural belief that preservation of the environment is of primary importance.
In another instance in 2012, a lobby of Marine Stewardship Council certified fishery joined the lawsuit against the California Bill AB 376. They attempted to open ports to the export of shark fin to Asia by was rejected by Federal Appeals Court and followed up with a like appeal in the State 9th Circuit Appeals Court.
Examples of Crime
In April this year (2015), the Royal China Club in London, UK was found to be stocking illegally imported shark fins from Hong Kong, against the UK import law. These fins were confiscated and destroyed by Trading Standards. The marketing manager of the Royal China Club, Jason Chan, admitted to selling shark fin soup, as well as other exotic delicacies (such as abalone and sea cucumber) not listed on the menu. He also admitted in an interview that many of the ingredients were brought into the country in suitcases to bypass inquiries.
The BBC reported this year (2015) that police in Ecuador have seized a haul of around 200,000 shark fins which were due to be illegally imported to Asia. These had been discovered after raids on nine locations on Manta (port city) and six people, including a Chinese national, had been arrested on charges of damaging wildlife. It was found that the traffickers has killed at least 50,000 sharks.
In another very recent example (October 2015), a Taiwanese boat (Shuen De Ching, No.888) was found to have illegally harvested shark fins and thrown the bodies overboard based on evidence collected by the Coast Guard Administration. Greenpeace personnel boarded the vessel after obtaining consent from the captain. They found that the logbook of the ship stated that three blue sharks (totaling 55kg in weight) were caught however, the boats hold only contained 75kg of shark fin, which officials say could have been obtained from at least 42 individual sharks. This constitutes a gross violation of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) regulations on shark finning.
These finding confirmed allegations made by Greenpeace only a month earlier that the vessel was involved in illegal operations near Papua New Guinea. Official’s state that based on the evidence, the Shuen De Ching will definitely face penalties which could involve between one month and one year’s suspension of their fishing license.
Case Study: Costa Rica
Costa Rica has been largely involved in the shark finning war since the beginning and is considered to be one of the most corrupt and ecologically destructive nations in Latin America. Though illegal in the country since 2005, it is estimated that between 350,000-400,000 sharks were killed in 2011 alone. Conservation groups have studied the area and estimate that the relative abundance sharks in the waters of Costa Rica have declined by 60% between the years of 1991 and 2001. Even in the waters of the country’s protected Cocos Island, more than 70% of hammerhead species have been lost due to illegal finning and overfishing.
Since the mid 1980’s, Chinese, Taiwanese and Indonesian nationals began the shark fin trade in Costa Rica, however, since it has become illegal, private docks have been built, secured with armed guards and barbed wire, to continue their activities. When interviewed by VICE news, Edwin Cantillo Espinoza (chief legal officer for the Costa Rican Life Guard) said that these groups “have significant amounts of money behind them” to be able to afford “the best technology” and “the best lawyers”. He also added that “they never use national boats, and that they’re all from Asia”. When investigating these docks with a film crew in 2011, Gordon Ramsey was held at gunpoint by the armed guards and Rob Stewart, film-maker of Sharkwater, was shot at.
Incopesca, the Costa Rican Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture, is widely considered to be one of the country’s most corrupt agencies and has been accused on several occasions of ignoring poaching. In 2012, the vice president was fired after acting as a defense attorney for numerous violators of the organisations own regulations. Also, as of 2014, the president was under investigation for authorizing the docking of several ships accused of shark finning.
In 2011, a boat owned by Kathy Tseng, a woman with national ties to several large seafood companies, was raided and 332 shark carcasses were seized. It was found that Tseng had exploited a legal loophole in the Costa Rican shark finning law which states that all sharks landed must have their fins naturally attached. The carcasses on board were found to have been victims of a process known as ‘spining’ in which the flesh is carved away from the sharks body, leaving the fins attached to the spine on a narrow strip of flesh.
Prosecutors filed charges against Tseng however, the judge not only cleared her of all changes, but also ordered the state pay more than $6,500 in compensation for the seized fins. In yet another loophole, the anti-finning law only punishes those who “orders, permits or authorizes the unloading of shark fins for commercial purposes”. Tseng claimed she had no intent of unpacking or selling the fins.
This ruling has worried many conservationists, as it has the potential to legalize spining as ‘legal natural attachment’ and may make it nearly impossible to prosecute other violators in the future. In 2010, the president of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla took action against illegal shark fishers by banning foreign fishing ships from unloading at private docks and in 2012, signed a blanket ban against shark finning and import and export of sharks became prohibited. This saw many illegal operations fall apart. However, conservationists worry that this ruling in Tseng’s favor will undo these actions and see the revival of illegal finning operations.
In 2007, The Shark Alliance (a coalition of 30 non-governmental organisations (NGO’s)) called for major change to the European Union’s (EU) shark fishing policy. They described it as inefficient and failing to protect sharks within Europe’s waters. Although shark fishing is technically illegal in the EU, slack standard and loopholes in enforcements allow the practice to continue without penalty. The alliance claims that the ‘fin to carcass weight ratio’ method is complicated and inadequate and recommends landing sharks with their fins naturally attached. The EU has since changed their legislation regarding shark finning to include this.
There has also been criticism of state bans on the selling and consumption of shark fin throughout America. Journalist, Anna Ling Kaye, suggests that these bans are expensive, ineffective and difficult to enforce and that a more efficient way to discontinue the practice of shark finning would be through education and boycotts.
In her article, Ling Kaye writes that the ban on the sale and consumption on shark fin will push shark fin soup onto the black market which will increase its value further. This will provide a greater incentive on people to fish for sharks illegally and for restaurants to secretly serve the product (as is evident from case of the Royal China Club in London (2015)). She goes on to suggest quite a controversial point. She asks why this ban is placed only on sharks. If it’s in the name of conservation, why not ban the sale of Bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) as well, as they are classified as ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN (International Union of the Conservation of Nature) as is still legal to eat and sell. If it’s in the name of animal welfare, why not ban factory farmed meat, as people have been made aware of the torture that many animals suffer in many of these establishments for years. Ling Kaye suggests that it’s ultimately down to the people that pass these laws, politicians and leaders. The shark finning legislation focuses on a single minority culture in many western countries where bans are in place, and suggests that this ban allows politicians to gain environmental points with the public without risking the majority of votes.
In an example of criticism of MPA’s, a recent study by the University of Victoria aimed to find out if the Cocos Island National Park is effectively protecting its shark and rays by properly enforcing conservation goals and laws, essentially being no more than a ‘paper park’. The research team investigated 21 years’ worth of recordings of sharks and rays which totaled over 1.4 million sightings made by divers alone.
The results revealed major declines in eights of the reserves 12 commonly observed species, such as hammerheads, manta rays, oceanic whitetip and eagle ray. The study concluded that these species were most likely suffering due to insufficient enforcement of laws of protected areas. This new research has raised concerns among conservationists about whether MPA’s can effectively protect the species within them, including sharks and rays.
Value of a Dead Shark
It is estimated that the global value of the shark fin trade ranges from US$540 million to US$1.2 billion annually and a single bowl of the infamous shark fin soup can up upwards of US$100. Shark fin commonly retails at US$400 per kg and the meat being less valuable at only US$0.85 per kg. In the Western world, whale and basking sharks are considered trophy species making their fins value at between US$10,000 and UD$20,000 per fin. The value of the parts of a shark that can be sold are calculated below:
Fins: These go for around $45-85 per kg, however, whale and basking shark fins can go for $10,000 to $20,000 each as they are considered trophy species. Depending on the species, a shark can have 4-8 individual fins which make up roughly 5% of the total body weight.
Meat: The meat of a shark is generally low value and only fetches $0.85 per kg and the meat of a shark is on average 55% of the total body weight.
Cartilage: This makes up on average 15% of the total body weight of a shark and sells for $1 per lb (0.45kg).
Liver oil: The liver of a shark is on average 6% of the total body weight of a single shark and can fetch $9.2 per kilogram of liver.
Leather: The skin of a shark can sell for between $15.82 and $31.63 and makes up roughly 16% of the total body weight of a shark.
Souvenirs: A single tooth can sell for around $1.99 in a gift shop and a shark can have up to 240 in its mouth at any one time. A fall jaw of a shark can sell for around £49.99 and a typical ‘shark in a jar’ sells for approximately $16.99.
Value of Living Sharks
Shark tourism companies exists in around 83 locations in 29 countries and makes approximately $314 million annually worldwide. This sector is expected to continue growing due to the surge in shark ecotourism evident in the Caribbean and Australia and scientists predict that this figure could double to over $700 million per year within the next 20 years. Divers want to see alive and healthy sharks and pay a lot of money to do so. On average, it costs around $2,304 (£1,500) a person to spend a weekend diving with sharks.
In 2010, 78% of divers who visited Fiji engaged in shark diving activities and direct taxes from shark divers totaled $5.9 million for that year. Tourism operators can collect revenue from the activity of shark diving itself and the government collects taxes through permits, entry or tag fees.
Value per year (US$)
Case Study: Palau, Oceania
A 2011 study carried out by the Australian Institute of Marine Science considered the expenditures of divers who travel from across the globe to Palau, which was declared a shark sanctuary in 2009, to dive with the nations gray reef (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) and reef whitetip sharks (Triaenodon obesus).
Diver ecotourism contributes 39% of Palau’s GDP (gross domestic product) of $218 million. The study found that 21% of the divers chose the location of Palau specifically for the sharks and the tourism from such divers contributes 8% of GDP.
The researchers from this study concluded that roughly 100 individual sharks inhabit each of the prime dive sites in Palau and each were worth $179,000 annually to the tourism industry. This means that each shark has a lifetime value of $1.9 million. This growth of the shark ecotourism sector has resulted in local residents gaining another $1.2 million annually and the government gaining $1.5 million annually.
Case Study: Donsol, The Philippines
Donsol has experienced a growth in ecotourism since 1998-2005 based entirely on encounters with live whale sharks and during this time, the number of tourists visiting Donsol has increased from 800 in 1998 to 7,200 in 2005. This has occurred in response to the development of whale shark viewing activities and has resulted in an increase in income of more than US$180,000.
Since 2002, more than 300 jobs have been created and more than 200 fisherman have gained employment as a result of the increase in ecotourism. Donsol now have a Whale Shark campaign involving NGOs, the government and religious leaders and have declared a Whale Shark Day in which the species is celebrates in festivals. It has gained national protection, increased efforts in scientific studies and the government compensate fisherman who cut their nets in order to free whale sharks that become trapped in them. The people of Donsol have now given whale sharks a new name: Vhali, meaning ‘loved one’.
Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus)
·On average, a package diving holiday involving whales sharks costs $3,840 (£2,500) per person.
·In Donsol, whale shark tourism brought in US$700,000 in 2005. $145,000 was retained by the local economy.
·Increased average income for people working in the industry of $50 per month during peak seasons.
·In 2009, more than 17,000 tourists visited Donsol to interact with the whale sharks.
Whale sharks have an average lifespan of around 70 years.
$3,840 per person x 17,000 tourists per year = $65,280,000 x 70 (average lifespan of one whale shark) = $4,567,6000,000
Lifetime value of one shark: $4,569,600,000 (£2,974,806,355.58)
·Average weight of a whale shark = 19,000kg
·Fins: $15,000 per fin x 8 fins = $120,000
·Meat: 55% of weight = 10,450kg. $0.85 per kg. 0.85×10,450 = $8,882.50
·Cartilage: 15% of weight = 2,850. $2.20 per kg. 2.20 x 2,850 = $6,270
·Liver: 6% of weight = 1,140. $9.2 per kg. 9.2 x 1,140 = $10,488
·Leather: 16% of weight = 3,040. $15.82 per kg. 15.82 x 3,040 = $48,092.80
·Souvenirs: $1.99 per tooth. On average, 240 teeth at any one time. 1.99 x 240 = $477.60
Total value of a whale shark carcass: $194,210.90 (£126,338.22)
A single whale shark is worth $4,569,405,789.10 (£2,972,493,280.98) more alive than dead.
Reef Whitetip Shark (Triaenodon obesus)
·On average, a diving package involving reef whitetip sharks is $1,250 (£812.96) per person.
·Tourism accounts for 85% of Palau’s GDP.
·In 2014, 141,000 tourists visited Palau, up 34% since 2013.
·39% of the toal GDP of Palau ($218 million) is from diving tourism.
·50,000 diver tourists visit Palau each year.
·21% of divers come to Palau specifically to see sharks.
·Shark tourism accounts for 8% of the total GDP = $17,440,000
Reef whitetip sharks have an average lifespan of 25 years.
$1,250 per person x 50,000 number of diver tourists per year = 62,500,000 x 25 (average lifespan of one reef whitetip shark) = $1,562,500,500
Lifetime value of one shark: $1,562,500,000 (£1,015,995,843.75)
·Average weight of a reef whitetip shark = 18.3kg
·Fins: $50 per fin x 8 fins = $400
·Meat: 55% of body weight = 10.06kg. $0.85 per kg. 10.06 x 0.85 = $8.55
·Cartilage: 15% of body weight = 2.74kg. $2.20 per kg. 2.20 x 2.74 = $6.02
·Liver: 6% of body weight = 1.09. $9.2 per kg. 9.2 x 1.09 = $10.02
·Leather: 16% of body weight = 2.92. $15.82 per kg. 15.82 x 2.92 = $46.19
·Souvenirs: $1.99 per tooth. On average, 240 teeth at any one time. 240 x 1.99 = $477.60
Total value of a reef whitetip shark carcass: $948.38 (£616.67)
A single reef whitetip shark is worth $1,562,499,051.62 (£1,015,995,227.08) more alive than dead.
Roughly, one third of all shark fin imports and exports goes through Hong Kong at some stage of the shark finning process, however, in 2014, Hong Kong experienced a 90% drop of trades from the country to mainland China from only a year previously and compared with 2012, overall imports fell by 35%. Fin imports to Hong Kong dropped from 8,285 tonnes in 2012 to 5,412 tonnes in 2014, their lowest level in almost a decade. Shark fin import prices also fell by 60% and the business in shark fin trade also experienced a 20-30% drop.
There is also evidence to suggest that the perceptions of the people of Hong Kong towards shark fin soup and the conservation of sharks is changing. In 2015, BLOOM published a survey on ‘Shark Consumption Habits and Attitudes in Hong Kong’, a follow up from a 2009 survey. This survey found that 70% (of 1,000 surveyed) of Hong Kong residents have reduced or entirely stopped their consumption of shark fin soup and 92% felt it was perfectly acceptable or even admirable to exclude shark fin soup from wedding banquets (less than 1% saw shark fin soup as irreplaceable at such events). This shows that the citizens of China are becoming more aware of the cruel secrets of shark finning and have called to their government to put a stop to it. Officials of Hong Kong, as well as mainland China and Malaysia have responded by banning shark fin based dishes are government functions.
Shark Product Boycotts
Since the increase in public demand for shark finning to cease and pressure from green groups and organisations, many companies around the world have vowed to boycott the use of shark products and decline their transportation. In Hong Kong alone, since 2014, five hotel chains have promised not to serve shark fin soup and 31 airlines are now against the transportation of fins.
Cosmetic companies that have vowed to discontinue the use of shark based squalene:
23 Thailand luxury hotels – part of the ‘Fin Free Thailand’ programme (2013)
Fairmont Hotels Group (2012)
Westin Macau (2012)
Airlines that no longer transport shark fin.
Virgin Atlantic Airways (2011)
Swiss Airways (2014)
Cebu Pacific (2014)
Etihad Airways (2013)
Air New Zealand (2013)
Thai Airways (2014)
Singapore Airlines (2014)
Korean Airlines (2013)
Emirates and Air Seychelles (2014)
Philippine Airlines (PAL) (2014)
Air Asia (2014)
Eva Air (2013)
KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) (2013)
LAN Chile / LATAM Airlines Group (2013)
Garuda Indonesia (2013)
Qatar Airways (2013)
Fiji Airways (2014)
United Airlines (2015)
American Airlines (2015)
Shipping companies that no longer transport shark fin:
Harijin in Korea (2013)
EvergreenLine, Taiwan (2013)
CMA, CGM, France (2014)
Celebrity support is incredibly important for any movement aiming to change any aspect of human tradition and culture. These people use their influence with the public to raise awareness of a cause and promote funding and donations. Celebrities are often used by charitable organisations as they have the ability to influence the actions of a large sector of the public and tap into the organisations target audience.
Yao Ming is a retired Chinese professional basketball player and became an ambassador for WildAid in 2006, when he signed the pledge to give up shark fin soup. He has since championed the conservation of sharks, elephants and rhinos.
Until recently, many Chinese did not know that shark fin soup included shark products, as the Mandarin translation is ‘fish wing soup’, and according to the 2015 Bloom survey, 91% of Chinese people surveyed (1,000) support a nationwide ban of shark fin soup consumption and 58% recollected anti-finning publicity campaigns, such as Yao Ming’s 2006 pledge to stop eating shark fin soup.
Gordon Ramsey joined the Shark Trust as a patron in 2010 and presented the documentary ‘Sharkbait’, raising public awareness about the shark fin trade as part of Channel 4’s ‘Big Fish Fight’. While investigating shark finning in Costa Rica, Ramsey was held at gunpoint and doused with gasoline before fleeing the country. A few days later, another environmentalist was attacked by shark fin traders.
Prince William: During an official tour of Asia in 2015, Prince William refused Chinese delicacies, including shark fin and turtle soup. Also, during 2014, the Duke praised Air New Zealand’s decision to stop carrying shark fin as part of a speech on the illegal wildlife trade at World Bank.
Jiang Wen: Jiang Wen is a Chinese film actor, screenwriter and director and in 2013, he worked with WildAid to narrate a PSA against shark finning, titled ‘Save Sharks’.
Maggie Q: Maggie Quigley (professionally known as Maggie Q) is an American actress and model and starred in a 2014 WildAid PSA against shark fin soup entitled ‘Impress’.
Kesha: Kesha Sebert is an American singer and songwriter and is the first global ambassador for the Humane Society International (HSI). She has appealed against a number of animal welfare issues including the testing of cosmetics on animals, Canada’s annual slaughter of seal pups, dogfighting and coral reef and polar bear conservation. In 2012, she filmed a PSA for HSI, against shark finning and shark fin soup.
Sir Richard Branson: Sir Richard Branson is an English businessman, investor and the founder of Virgin Group. In 2012, he swam with whale sharks to raise awareness of the shark fin trade and to help change their negative image. Working with WildAid, he leads worldwide calls to save sharks and stop the sale of shark fin soup.
Sir David Jason: Sir David John White (OBE) (stage name, David Jason) is an English actor. He is a long standing patron of the Shark Trust and an active supporter of their Stop Shark Finning campaign.
Jackie Chan: Jackie Chan (SBS, MBE) is a Hong Kong actor, martial artist, film director, producer, stuntman and singer. He dedicates himself to changing Chinese attitudes towards wildlife and publicly refuses shark fin soup. He is a man of incredible influence and in 2013, he was named a national-level delegate of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Ang Lee: Ang Lee (OBS) is a Tawainese-born, American film director, screenwriter and producer. He is a big shark advocate and has starred in several PSA’s against shark finning and shark fin soup for WildAid.
Steve Backshall: Steve Backshall is a BAFTA-winning English naturalist, writer and television presenter. He joined the Shark Trust as a patron in 2014 and is an ambassador for the ‘No Limits?’ campaign. In 2014, he urged the UK government to fight the unlimited fishing of sharks by EU boats in the Atlantic.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Leonardo DiCaprio is an American actor and film producer and in 2012, he wrote to the California Senate in support of the bill that would ban shark fins throughout the state (the bill was passed in October that year). He has since called for the support of New York’s pending ban of shark fin.
James Cameron: James Cameron is a Canadian filmmaker, inventor, engineer, philanthropist and deep sea explorer. In 2013, he joined OceanElders who aim to promoted ocean conservation and campaigned with WildAid and Virgin Unites to encourage countries around the world to ban shark finning.
Wolfgang Puck: Wolfgang Puck is an Austrian-born, American celebrity chef, restaurateur and occasional actor. He is one of the many celebrities that has pledged never to use or consume shark fin and supports the ban on the trade and sale of shark fin products.
Mario Batali: Mario Batali is an American chef, writer, restauranteur and media personality. He has pledged never to use or consume shark fin and supports the ban on the trade and sale of shark fin products.
Edward Norton: Edward Norton is an American actor, filmmaker and activist. He demonstrated his support for the California ban on the sale and trade on shark fin and is an ambassador for WildAid.
Zhang Yue: Zhang Yue is a Chinese business tycoon and founder and chairman of Board Air Conditioning. He joined forced with Yao Ming and Richard Brandon as part of Virgin Unite to deliver a global campaign to save sharks.
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO)
NGO’s are extremely important to movements such as the banning of the shark fin trade and decrease in consumption of the infamous shark fin soup. They operate in every part of the world and fight for a variety of causes. They can be local, national or international and are considered to be the voice of the people for those who have lost faith in their government. Below are only a few examples of NGO’s related to shark finning, there are many others operating to fight for wild sharks and rays and their habitats.
This NGO was founded in 2007 and their mission is to save the worlds shark and manta populations through building awareness as well as education and action. This group has more than 25,000 members from 99 different nations and its actions has resulted in more protection for sharks and mantas around the world and works to create shark sanctuaries and improve relevant legislation.
“I’m Finished with Fins” Campaign
Shark savers partnered with WWF-Hong Kong, WildAid, National Geographic and Nat Geo to launch this campaign in Hong Kong in 2013, the shark fin trade capital, after it began in Singapore in 2012. It asked 100,000 Hong Kong citizens to pledge not to consume shark fin soup and aims to educate the public that it is socially acceptable to decline the dish. On the day of launch in Hong Kong, more than 90 local politicians, business leaders and celebrity ambassadors joined the campaign.
2009: Yao Ming’s PSA aired in China.
2011:I Pledge campaign persuades citizens in Hong Kong to stop eating shark fin soup.
2012: Singapore celebrities encourage the public to say “I’m Finished with Fins”.
2012: Corporate leaders asked to stop serving shark fin soup at events.
2012: Corporations take the pledge to be “Finished with Fins”.
2012: Billboards against shark fin soup go up in 80 locations throughout Singapore.
2013: “I’m Finished with Fins” moves to Taiwan and Hong Kong with support of LUSH.
Shark savers works with community based partners to gather local support for shark protection and to product effective proposals to establish legal protection for sharks, including the establishment of shark sanctuaries across the globe.
New patrol boat purchased for Raja Ampat shark sanctuary.
Illinois bans the sale, trade and possession of shark fins.
Shark trade ban enacted in The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
The mission of Wild Aid is to end the illegal wildlife trade and works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products by ‘persuading customers and strengthening enforcement’. Wild Aid invests nearly $200 million annually in media support and its messages reaches up to a billion people every week.
In relation to shark finning, Wild Aid raises awareness and concern about the impact of the consumption of shark fin soup on wild shark populations and marine biodiversity and they do this by broadcasting their messages on TV, video boards in subways, train stations and university campuses. It has been reported that Wild Aid campaigns, in combination with government bans has resulted in a 50-70% decrease in China’s consumption of shark fin.
Rays and Mobulas
Wild Aid also campaign against the consumption of manta and mobula gill rakers which are eaten and used in traditional Asian medicines. In 2014, they launched a demand campaign in Guangzhou, China which is estimated that 99% of the market and consumption for gill plates are based. In 2015-16, Wild Aid aims to continue to peruse this campaign in other countries, including Peru and Sri Lanka. They also intend to conduct activities to build local support for the protection of these animals and enforce protection laws and conservation measures around the world. Wild Aid’s goals for this campaign are:
Use existing methodology, networks and contacts from their China shark fin campaign to raise awareness in China of the impacts of manta gill plate consumption and urgency of manta ray conservation, and measurably reduce demand for gill plates in China, ultimately working towards ending the gill plate trade in Guangzhou.
Pursue legal protection for manta and mobula rays in key range countries.
Support implementation of manta and mobula protections through community outreach and enforcement strategies.
This NGO was founded in 2006 and works directly with decision makers to implement and strengthen legislation relevant to the protection and management of wild shark populations. They have the support of over 130 organisations across Europe and in 2009 campaigned for the EU to close a loophole in the 2003 ban, which allowed fisherman permits to remove fins on board and land them separately from their bodies, which left significant room for undetected shark finning. The EU has since adopted a regulation requiring that all sharks be brought to port with their fins naturally attached, which is widely regarded as the most reliable method of implementing a shark finning ban. This new regulation also allows for species specific landing data, which is important for population assessments and fisheries management. In 2009, the EU also adopted a plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks.
2009 EU Plan of Action
The European Commission’s Action Plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks was implemented in February 2009 and it aims to ensure that effective steps are taken to help rebuild shark stocks wherever they are under threat. It also aims to create guidelines for sustainable management of fisheries and to improve methods of increasing scientific knowledge of shark stocks and shark fisheries. This action plan will also cover related species, such as skates and rays and apply wherever EU fleets operate, either within or outside European waters. This action plan state that its goals are:
Deepen knowledge both on shark fisheries and on shark species and their role in the ecosystem.
Ensure that directed fisheries for shark are sustainable and that there by-catches are properly regulated.
Encourage a coherent approach between the internal and external European Commission fishery policy for sharks.
The Shark Trust was first established in 1997 and is the only UK registered charity working to advance the conservation of sharks across the globe through science, education, influence and action. They are a well-respected advocate for shark management and protection and undertake a range of projects, campaigns and policy work. They are a founder member of the Shark Alliance and are a secretariat of the European Elasmobranch Association. They support sustainably managed fisheries and work closely with a wide range of other specialist groups. The Shark Trust:
Works to deliver effective UK, EU and international wildlife protection and fisheries management.
Is a well-respected authority for sound shark management and protection.
Delivers innovative and engaging public outreach, awareness and recording schemes.
Collaborates with shark advocates, scientists, government and industry towards sustainable domestic and international catch limits and protection for sharks, skates and rays.
European Shark Week
This protect began in 2007 and took place every October until 2011, when the campaign became focused on the European parliament. This allows shark supporters across Europe to unite and raise awareness about shark conservation. People were encouraged to take part in shark related activities and add their voices to campaigns aiming to secure the future health of wild shark populations. In Shark Week 2008, 10,946 people signed a petition which called on European fisheries and environment ministers to promote and implements a strong EU Plan of Action for sharks. This public support added great weight to the government decision to create the plan in 2009.
Great Eggcase Hunt: This project encourages people to report sightings of shark, skate and ray eggcases they find. This develops the understanding of the distribution of British elasmobranchs.
Basking Shark Project: People are encouraged to submit sightings and photographs of basking sharks to improve knowledge of their distribution around Britain.
Shark Sightings Database: People are encouraged to submit any sightings of sharks around Britain. This aids our understanding of their distribution.
Angler Recording Project: Recreational anglers are encouraged to record their catches. This aids our understanding of the population and morphological dynamics of British sharks, skates and rays.
Whale Shark Project: Here, a range of educational recourses are offered to teachers and marine educators to educate and spread awareness further.
This group was first established in 1977 and has been led by Captain Paul Watson for 35 years. It is the world’s most active, marine, non-profit organisation and aims to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species. The Sea Shepherds uses direct action tactics to investigate, document and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities. The international laws and charters that the Sea Shepherds adhere to include:
Sea Shepherd campaigns are guided by the United Nations World Charter for Nature. Sections 21-24 of the Charter provides authority to individuals to act on behalf of and enforce international conservation laws.
Sea Shepherd cooperates fully with all international law enforcement agencies and its enforcement activities complying with standard practices of law and policing enforcement.
Sea Shepherd adheres to the utilization of non-violent principles in the course of all actions and has taken a standard against violence in the protection of the oceans.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is dedicated to working towards cooperative agreements between nations to protect species and habitats according to SSCS Mandate.
This project strives to protect marine ecosystems and local economies by achieving the balance necessary. They also enforce laws against illegal shark finning and strives to change public opinion about sharks. The Sea Shepherds work with governments, agencies and other NGO’s in order to enforce local and national laws that protect sharks. They also offer their resources and experience to nations in need of their assistance, including:
Worldwide awareness and support,
On-going attention to implementation,
Training of shark fin sniffing dogs,
Vessel identification systems.
Galapagos K9 Unit
In 2008, the Sea Shepherds acquired six police dogs in Colombia and WildAid and Conservation International selected four. After initial training by the elite Ecuadorian police unit (Grupo de Intervención), the dogs were transferred to the Galapagos Islands in January 2009. Here, the dogs underwent additional training by environmental police (Unidad de Protección del Medio Ambiente) and then became part of the canine squad combating the smuggling of shark fins and sea cucumbers in the Galapagos.
The Galapagos Islands are located 900km west of Ecuador and are known as the most sacred ecosystem on the planet as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since 2000, the Sea Shepherds have maintained a strong presence on the islands and have supplied resources to the local citizens including radio equipment, Automatic Identification Systems, shark education to school children and now the first ever police K9 unit in South America that focuses on the detection of contraband wildlife.
This project began in 2009 and is dedicated to promoting awareness, education and action for the benefit of wild sharks. They specifically focus on the cross cultural aspect of shark conservation and has saved nearly 8,000 sharks from death by diverting over 80,000 bowls of shark fin soup from consumption.
Happy Hearts Love Sharks: This is a contest run by shark truth which offers newlywed couples the chance to win a free honeymoon, by pledging to go fin free at their wedding. Shark Truth also offers alternative recipes to shark fin soup on their website, including duck, crab and faux fin, which is made from gelatin. Shark Truth also offer volunteering opportunities and internships.
What Can we Do?
Don’t eat shark fin soup: Maybe the most obvious, but also one of the most important things you can do as an individual is to decline shark fin soup and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you know of a local restaurant that serves it, politely request that they take it off the menu. Many people do not know of the impacts that consuming this dish can have.
Support NGO’s: Show your support for relevant NGO’s working towards saving wild shark and ray populations. You can sign up for their newsletters, take part in their campaigns and write to them. Links to the websites of the NGO’s mentioned in this article can be found in the ‘progress’ section.
Spread the Message: You can tell people about the plight of shark finning and encourage them to support the cause through the power of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr etc. Follow NGO’s online and share /retweet their messages.
Go Diving with Sharks: While on holiday, consider taking a trip to dive with sharks. This will strengthen the idea with local communities that sharks are worth more to them alive than dead and in a bowl.
Get it on Mainstream News: You can write to your local newspaper and news television and radio stations and ask them to run a segment on shark finning. This will also help to spread the message and educate more people.
Tell a Celebrity: Write to people of influence and tell them about shark finning and ask for their support to fight it. These people will in turn, educate many others about shark finning.
Buy Shark Free Products: Buy cosmetics and medicines that do not use shark based products, such as cartilage and shark based squalene and squalane. If enough people do this, manufacturers will stop using it. Buy products with vegetable based oils instead.
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