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Against Shark Culling Essays

This is the most dangerous animal in the world. They kill millions each year. And beside him, a shark swim peacefully. Photo: Lia Barrett



I cannot begin to explain my disgust at Western Australia’s recent implementation of new laws that allow professional fisherman to destroy sharks that enter a “kill zone” marked out by the new legislation.

It’s hard to find the best words to describe my feelings about the issue. Culling sharks is utterly ridiculous. The government (and any other person that supports shark culling) needs to understand the full extent of the situation before they make harsh decisions; they need to pull their heads out of their arses and stop acting like dick heads, for lack of a few better words.

I shouldn’t need to cover the fact that sharks have been around for millions of years. We learned that in school. Talking about how the ocean is their territory is nothing new. Accepting the facts that humans take a calculated risk when they enter the ocean and that there are other factors to consider other than shark encounters isn’t anything new either. But these are just three simple, well documented facts that even our government can’t comprehend.

Let’s talk about the vital role sharks play in the marine ecosystem. Sharks are apex predators. When the food chain is tampered with at any level, disastrous effects are sure to follow, especially when the top of the food chain is impacted. Sharks keep the populations below them in check. Without this control (assuming no interference from humans on other levels) other species would grow beyond sustainable levels, eventually resulting in suffocating the oceans. From the apex right down to phytoplankton, each level is vital to the ocean’s very existence. And here’s something that you probably already know: we need the ocean to survive.

Newsflash: Shark sightings are on the rise! I don’t know how much more misleading the government and their accomplices in the media could be. I agree that there have been more shark sightings in recent years, but let’s look at the real facts behind this. According to Surf Life Saving WA (thanks for the amazing work you do!) aerial patrols were conducted over 113 days in 2010/2011 over Perth metro waters. In 2011/2012 this increased to 190 days (620 hours) where there were 247 sightings, and in 2012/2013 there were 221 patrol days (751 hours) which reported 285 sightings. Evidently, increased sightings are the direct result of much needed increases in patrol hours. Interestingly, over both years, the average shark sighting came in at roughly 1 shark every 2.5 hours – proving no disproportionate increase in sightings. Given these figures, is it really any wonder shark sightings have increased? Is it really that hard to realize that the more we’re in the air looking for sharks, the more likely we are to see them?

Newsflash: Shark “attacks” are on the rise! First of all, they shouldn’t be referred to as attacks. These are simply encounters. The chances of even seeing a shark are slim, being bitten by one no different. Sharks will gracefully wander through their natural habitat, and sometimes they’ll get a sudden surprise from a human. At this point the shark will either decide to move along without further interaction or he might decide to take an investigative bite. Sharks don’t share the same abilities as us when it comes to observation. They need to bite, which is just an unfortunate truth, given their power and sharp teeth. It’s naive to simply state that shark “attacks” are on the rise. I’m a scuba diver, which means I put myself in many vulnerable situations based on environmental conditions, hunting grounds, ocean depths, etc. I actually go looking for sharks, and I am rarely graced with their presence.  Sure, there may have been more encounters and bites over recent years of which some have unfortunately been fatal, but think about how rapidly our population is growing and consequently how many more people are playing in the ocean – it’s all relative. Then consider the impact of the depleting natural food sources for sharks caused by humans’ over-fishing. What are sharks forced to do? They’re forced to find new feeding grounds – some of them try closer to shore where fish stocks can be plentiful and there’s an enticing array of scents and vibrations caused by frolicking humans attracting them there. So who’s really to blame here?

The government claims sharks kill too many people. I know we can’t put a value on a person’s life, but comparatively, how many are too many? It’s important to note the statistics of the other, more pertinent, risks and causes of death in our society – let’s focus on WA alone. According to Perth Now, shark bites have killed 11 people in WA since 2000, (less than one per year with tens of millions of people entering the ocean many times each every year). According to the Western Australia Police website, as of January 10th, there have been 671 road fatalities since 2010 alone (more than 163 per year, many of which are caused by the poor decisions people make by driving under the influence and/or speeding). Straight away, this highlights an issue in society the government really should be addressing. But does it address it? To what extent? Are their mitigating/controlling methods as severe as culling? Western Australia’s Drug and Alcohol Office puts the number of alcohol related hospitalizations in the North Metro Area of Perth alone at 25,277 from 2005-2009 (more than 5,000 per year), at a cost of more than $146,000,000. Alarmingly, there were 1,485 alcohol related deaths from 1999-2007 (that’s 165 deaths per year!). So people are killing people (or at least themselves) in alcohol related incidents and the government gets all high and mighty deciding to cull sharks that can’t be held accountable for a death because they’re killing “too many people”?

So besides the idiotic views of those that support shark culling and the facts above about how culling simply doesn’t make logical sense and is morally wrong, there is no scientific evidence suggesting that shark culling is effective. History and experimentation actually proves its ineffectiveness. A shark cull conducted in Hawaii between 1959 and 1976 destroyed over 4,500 sharks and had negligible positive effect on reducing shark bites. It only had a detrimental impact on the marine ecosystem. So why is the government spending tax payer money on a  method that has proven to be ineffective? Why aren’t they investing in methods that actually work and further research and education? Instead they use scare tactics, based on false or at least non-transparent “facts.”

I struggle to understand why there is resistance to accepting the proposal from Ocearch Shark Men to tag and research the sharks of WA. Helping us understand more about them really is the key to both sharks and humans living and swimming in harmony. I encourage you to check out the Facebook page to support this research proposal.

Above all this, I’m confused to absolutely no end as to how this newly established kill zone (within 1km of selected beaches) can have baited drum lines on its westernmost perimeter – a cowardly hunting method to say the least. This will attract the curious shark which may then cross the 1km mark. This is when the innocent shark can be killed. The purpose of a baited drum line in an effective strategy would only be to attract the shark (to an area far enough away from people) so it sets off an alarm and can then be monitored, even ushered out to sea. This, of course, wouldn’t be a traditional drum line, it would need to be a modified version which didn’t catch the shark and drown it. If it did start to venture too close to the beach, people could easily be alerted and evacuated. A simple, yet effective solution. Even if a shark bites or kills a person and is then hunted to be destroyed, there is no guarantee the shark that is found is the one responsible for the death. I know that if I were to kill the wrong person (or any animal without the government’s misguided permission) through mistaken identity, I’d be made to stand trial and would expect to spend many years in prison. Shit, I wouldn’t even get away with killing the right person responsible for hurting my own family. Humans are the real threat to this world. The ones that do wrong (very wrong) should face capital punishment. Paedophiles, rapists and terrorists have no place on this earth, yet they’re left to continue doing damage to their own species. Nothing significant is done to fix this issue. There’s no culling of them, there’s not even individual capital punishment.

The government are to blame for this new law. After all, they are the ones that created it. But maybe if more than the 62,000 fans of No Great White cull in WA, nearly 25,000 fans of Support Our Sharks, roughly 12,500 supporters of the change.org petition and the 9,158 supporters of the care2 petition (to name just a few) stood up for what’s right, they could have persuaded the government to act more responsibly and with a shred of integrity.

There is no excuse or justifiable argument that even comes close to validating a shark cull. End of story.

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Enormous body, rapid swimming speed, fatal bite and decent sensory organs——sharks are well known for their prominent instinct as a top predator in the ocean. Still, they are encountering the threat of going extinct. According to the research of IUCN, 181 out of 1044 shark species are listed as endangered, vulnerable or threatened, while 488 shark species are judged as unknown due to insufficient information. Who has the ability to threaten the life of these beasts? Human beings.

Sharks catching activities have been prospering since the early 90s, it can be accounted by the drastic growth of the economies in some Asian countries like China and Taiwan, which led to the increase in demand for shark fin soup. For the sake of satisfying the Asian skyrocketing needs for shark fins, fishermen thought of an effective idea—— shark finning.

Shark finning is a process where shark fins are removed and their bodies are discarded in the ocean. It is widely adopted because shark fin is the most profitable part of a shark (Clarke, Miler-Gulland, & Bjorndal, 2007) and it is cost-effective whereby the fishing units can spare space for reserving more fins before landing, thus time and fuel are saved. However, shark finning is a mental and physical abuse to sharks. Imagine if you are in the ocean with your limbs being cut, your wounds are bleeding and the brine brings you anguish until you die, it is exactly what a finned shark has to experience. Shark finning is indeed an unethical practice to earn profit.

Besides the cruelty of shark finning, disposing unused body of sharks into the ocean is wasting natural resources, as shark fin is not the only worthy part to be extracted.
From a medicinal perspective, shark liver oil contains high vitamin A content which has been used to boost the recovery of wounds and heal some respiratory and digestive system problems for centuries (Gupta, Singhal, Jangra, Nautiyal, & Pandey, 2012). From an industrial perspective, the diamond texture and the dermal denticles enable shark skin to be used as sandpaper for polishing. The greatest misperception people have is the concept of which shark meat is harmful to be eaten, the truth is rotten shark meat has long been a local dish of Icelanders (Anderson, 2011). According to the document——A Review of Fin-weight Ratios for Sharks, a shark fin only occupies 2% of a shark’s total weight, which reveals how vast the wastes the shark finning industry have been producing.

Wasting unused resources is not the only point to see how environmental-unfriendly the shark finning industry is. The annual shark catching number is estimated to be 100 million (McGrath, 2013) and among it 38 million sharks are killed for fins only (Bakalar, 2006). If the current situation cannot be eased, all species of shark can be extinct in a decade (Reddy, 2005), because shark’s mature period is late comparing to many other fish and it can only give birth to 2 to 100 young per reproductive cycle (Leonard, 1984). Extinction of these top predators will pose irreversible damage to the ecosystem of the ocean. When feeders of sharks including fish, shells and squids can breed rapidly without limitation, there will be insufficient food for them to consume and species in the ocean will start to decline. Thus, shark finning compromises the biodiversity of the ocean too.

Extinction of sharks will also poison the global economy. With the devastated ecosystem, the number of fishes and seafood will continuously decrease, fishing individuals will find it difficult to obtain a good harvest. When the situation keep deteriorating, fishermen may not be able to maintain their basic living and millions of people will suffer from unemployment, the economic growth will be harassed due to the loss in the fishing industry.

Probably people do not think a species can go extinct so easily, while the extinction of the western black rhinos can indicate how destructive human beings are. In China, horn of a black rhino is believed to have some exclusive medicinal effects starting from the 1950s. Thus, Poachers kept decimating the black rhinos to make profit. At last, the number of black rhinos dropped from 1 million to 2300 in year 2001, coincidentally the western black rhinos are extinct (Platt, 2013). Human had already made an irrecoverable mistake that caused the extinction of western black rhinos, action should be taken to protect the sharks as to avoid the same tragedy from happening again.

According to the Humane Society International/Europe, 27 countries and the European Union had banned shark finning in order to show their concern on the shark issues. However, the global shark finning situation is worsening. The remaining 57 shark fin exporting countries have weak or no regulation on shark finning and the international waters cannot be regulated. In order to protect the sharks from being overkilled, shark finning should be globally banned.

Traditionalist Chinese people may protest against this suggestion as they are used to serving shark fin soup in some banquets or weddings (Bradsher, 2005), they think serving shark fin soup shows their respect and appreciation to their guests (Barboza, 2006)(Woo, 2010). Indeed, fish maw and bird’s nest are perfect substitutes for shark fin soup to be served in weddings and banquets. They are viewed as a symbol of wealth, power and status because they are rare and expensive. However, bird’s nest is transformed from swallow’s saliva and fish maw is extracted from the fish species that can breed fast so serving them is much more environmentally friendly and shark fin soup is not a necessity to be served.

It is a Chinese belief that shark fin soup can boost sexual potency, enhance skin quality, increase one’s energy, avoid heart disease and decrease cholesterol (Woo, 2010). According to the nutrition list of shark fin soup, the fact is it contains high protein and sodium content. Excess sodium intake will cause high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease (Kolota, 2013), which will seriously influence the efficiency of our organs. While high protein content can nourish our skin, but rather than having shark fin soup, eating turkey breast meat is a better way to obtain protein. According to the nutrition label, 100g of turkey breast meat contains 17.1g of protein, which is a double that of shark fin soup. The medicinal value of shark fin soup is not so unique that people must eat it.

Shark fin is not a necessity to all human beings but shark finning will compromise our world in an environmental and economic perspective. Shark finning should be globally banned as soon as possible.

Reference list

Clarke, Shelley, Milner-Gulland, E.J., & Bjorndal, Trond (2007 October). “Social, Economic, and Regulatory Drivers of the Shark Fin Trade”. Marine Resource Economics (Marine Resources Foundation) 22 (3): 305–327

Gupta P, K Singhal, AK Jangra, V Nautiyal, & A Pandey (2012) “Shark liver oil: A review” Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical Education and Research, 1 (2): 1-15.

Cooper, Annie (2009 October). A Material Based on Sharkskin Stops Bacterial Breakouts, Popular Science, from http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2009-10/saving-skin

Anderson, Kris (2011 September). Hákarl: when in Iceland, eat as the Icelanders generally don’t, Cafebabel, from http://www.cafebabel.co.uk/society/article/hakarl-when-in-iceland-eat-as-the-icelanders-generally-dont.html

McGrath, Matt (2013 March). Shark kills number 100 million annually, research says, BBC News, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21629173

Bakalar, Nicholas (2006 October). 38 Million Sharks Killed for Fins Annually, Experts Estimate, National Geographic News, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/ne
ws/2006/10/061012

Reddy, Tash (2005 December). Sharks may be extinct in a decade, IOL News, from http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/sharks-may-be-extinct-in-a-decade-1.26045
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Leonard J. V. Compagno (1984). Sharks of the World: An annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ISBN 92-5-104543-7. OCLC 156157504.

Keith Bradsher (2005 June). Disneyland in China Offers a Soup and Lands in a Stew, The New York Times

Barboza, David (2006 August). Waiter, There’s a Celebrity in My Shark Fin Soup, The New York Times, Retrieved 16 February 2011.

Woo, Joyce (2010 September). Shark tale: Hong Kong’s use of fins as a delicacy under fire, The Washington Post, Associated Press, Retrieved 16 February 2011.

Kolota, Gina (2013 May). No Benefit Seen in Sharp Limits on Salt in Diet, The New York Times

Platt, John R. (2013, November). How the Western Black Rhino Went Extinct, Scientific American, from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/2013/11/13/western-black-rhino-extinct/

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