A Killer Delicacy
Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is underway, and I, like 30 million other Americans (and 34,000 Twitter followers), have looked forward to indulging in television programs about the large cartilaginous fish that have patrolled the oceans for 450 million years. Shark Week began almost 25 years ago, when the Discovery Channel first launched. It quickly gained notoriety, after dedicating a week of programming to a 5,000 lb fish (based on average weight of a Great White Shark) with 5 rows of ever replenishing teeth – who doesn’t want to watch? Sure, the program does provide an educational side and addresses the misconceptions about these creatures, but let’s face it we all know why you watch. In the words of Lady Gaga, “show me your teeth!”
While sharks are greatly feared by surfers and beach goers alike, there are only about 10 deaths caused by sharks per year. In fact, you’re more likely to be killed by a pig. In contrast, up to 73 million sharks are killed each year—for their fins. Fishermen haul the shark out of the water, slice off its fins, and then toss the shark back into water, leaving it to drown, bleed or starve to death.
A recent California bill, which would ban all possession, sale, trade or distribution of shark fin, has passed in the state assembly and is working its way through the state senate. However, passing the bill hasn’t been that simple. Some Chinese Americans feel that because the ban is only on the fin (and not the actual shark meat) that it is a deliberate attack on their culture. LA celebrities, including Scarlett Johansson and Leonardo DiCaprio have joined forces with environmental groups, urging California to pass the bill. NBA basketball star, Yao Ming was featured in a WildAid PSA, where he was shown pushing away a bowl of Shark Fin Soup, as a finless shark lies defenseless in an aquarium behind him.
So, this year’s Shark Week comes at a precarious time; a time in which the movement to ban Shark Fin Soup has sparked major political debate. Now you may be asking, “Wait a minute, what is Shark Fin Soup?”
Shark Fin Soup is a delicacy that is considered to be a status symbol in Chinese culture. In restaurants, a small bowl of shark fin soup retails for up to USD$80. It is typically served at weddings, banquets and is often used to impress clients. As we all know, China’s economy is prospering and the country’s global presence is expanding, which has lead to an increase in the Chinese upper and middle class and the spread of Chinese culture… and therefore an increased demand for shark fin soup.
California is not the first state to put this law into writing, in fact, Hawaii’s and Washington’s laws went into effect on July 1st, with fines upwards of $15,000 for selling or distributing shark fins. However, some argue that it will not be enough, that fishermen will continue to seek sharks solely for their fins. That being said, if demand ceases in these states (and others) it may have a large enough effect to stop fishermen (anyone seen Whale Wars?).
But, before you write me off as just some animal rights activist, let’s get back to Shark Week. With shows like “When Sharks Attack”, “Killers of the Deep” and “Rogue Sharks”, the Discovery Channel certainly capitalizes on the fact that sharks are feared. And let’s be honest, Shark Week was probably established for one purpose – ratings. However, the programming has since evolved into a cultural phenomenon, synonymous with jaw clenching, hold your breath entertainment – yes, all puns intended. The programming also provides insight that helps viewers have a better understanding and respect for the shark, an insight that is still relatively new for scientists even.
So next time you tune into Shark Week or come across Shark Fin Soup on a menu (according to Menupages.com, there are 40 restaurants in New York City that offer it), keep in mind what costs it took for you to enjoy these killer delicacies – just some food for thought, or thought for food?