by on December 9th, 2014
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The year 1916 can be identified as the year when sharks became known as man-eaters. In a span of twelve days, five people were attacked by sharks with only one surviving. From that point forward, it has been nothing but devastation for shark populations, reaching a peak with the release of the movie Jaws. Fear of sharks spread throughout the world like wildfire and sharks became known as the man-eating, bloodthirsty sea monsters that many people see them as today.

Our fear of sharks has allowed commercial fishing, particularly shark finning fishing, to overexploit these apex predators, depleting shark populations to near extinction. Ultimately, this will disrupt the marine ecosystems that are essential to all life on the planet, including humans. Conservation practices must be adopted to maintain marine ecosystem stability and stop the overexploitation of sharks.

How Sharks became Man-eaters

The fear of sharks results from their relatively unknown characteristics and behaviors. The lack of knowledge of sharks goes back prior to 1916, where the majority of the general public did not even know what a shark looked like, and sharks were thought only to attack people if provoked (Fernicola 2001). Ichthyologists thought that sharks did not possess power in their jaws-despite their enormous size – and thus were incapable of ripping a person’s leg off (Fernicola 2001).

Unfortunately, these misevaluations of shark behavior led to the labeling of sharks as harmless, in contrast to the respect that a 1900-kilogram carnivore demands, and the conviction that sharks will not attack a living man (Fernicola 2001). Subsequently, these and additional misconceptions led to the rapid depiction of a relatively unknown and harmless fish to a man-eating, bloodthirsty, terrifying sea monster. As a result, sharks were faced with a fearful society that perceived them as a threat to mankind and was unsympathetic towards their survival.


Society’s indifference towards sharks has led to their exploitation through commercial fishing. Fisheries, both legal and illegal, take advantage of our dislike of sharks and overfish for these creatures without having to fear public protests. Furthermore, shark-fishing industries build upon these negative attitudes with inaccurate and noncredible sources. One such source is that of William Goh, Managing Director of Rabbit Brand Shark Finn, who claims that sharks will attack and kill humans:

“Shark is a kind animal…that is bullshit. Shark actually is not kind animals. You don’t believe me, go to see the shark whether he’ll eat you or not. No the shark is not. It’s very, very fierce. You see its teeth? Like a saw. They bite you and tears away and you die. You will die, pain and you die. Shark is very fierce animal.” (qtd. in Sharkwater)

Because of such negative publicity, sharks, have been the subject of less research, conservation, and fisheries management attention and are consequently among the most vulnerable, exploited animals on the planet. Commercial fishing represents the foremost cause of human-induced mortality of all sharks (Camhi et al. 2008). With no resistance from conservationists in their way, worldwide fisheries take millions of sharks, not only as direct catch, but also as by-catch, a reportedly 54 billion pounds of meat every year (Stewart 2000).

It is extremely wasteful and a tragedy that any animal with no profitable value is killed and thrown back into the ocean from where it came. Nevertheless, sharks are the most significant by-catch species by both weight and numbers, especially from tuna longlines and gill nets, and in some of these fisheries, shark by-catch have exceeded even the targeted fish catch (Camhi et al. 2008).

Shark Finning

The majority of shark deaths, however, result from direct fishing, and of all the shark fisheries, shark-finning industries are the most damaging. Shark finning is the practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the carcass overboard, wasting over 95% of the animal. Only the fins of the shark are wanted. The rest of the body is not worth the costs to transport to the markets due to its relatively cheap meat combined with the need for expensive refrigeration systems.

Shark fins are considered a delicacy to Hong Kong, China, Singapore, and several other Asian nations and are commonly used for shark fin soup. Even though the soup itself is flavorless, the fins are symbols of wealth and respect (Sharkwater). As a result, shark finning has become an extremely profitable industry with a single pound of fin worth over $300. Consequently, the majority of hunted sharks are sought for their fins, with an estimated 70 million of the 100 million sharks killed for that purpose (Stewart 2007).

That number is likely to increase drastically as the growing Asian middle class demands more shark fin soup. The demand for shark fins is estimated to be growing at 6.1% annually, and as the value and demand continues to rise, many developing nations have begun to support fisheries that target sharks (Camhi et al. 2008). Fins are extremely profitable, and fishermen from all over the world are willing to risk anything just to hunt for sharks, even in places where shark fishing is illegal (Stewart 2007).

The shark finning industry has even created a black market for these very valuable fins. Asian markets drive hundreds of poor fishermen from several Latin American nations into taking as many sharks as possible. One of the biggest illegal shark fin operations belongs to the Taiwanese mafia based in Costa Rica. It is illegal to fin sharks in Costa Rica; however, according to Stewart (2007), there is corruption, and politicians have been paid off by the mafia to ignore government regulations on shark finning.

Road to Extinction

Given current shark populations and the rising demands for shark, it is estimated that sharks will not be able to survive current fishing levels in the very near future and this will eventually lead to their extinction. The increasing demand for sharks will continue to exert pressure upon their currently depleting populations as further studies have shown that sharks are being exterminated at a rate of 100 million a year.

Sharks have no chances of replenishing those lost numbers due to their low reproductive rates (low mortality, slow growth rates, and late sexual maturity with gestation periods of up to three months) (Stewart 2007 and Camhi et al. 2008). Furthermore, fisheries’ catch-rate records have shown the decline of 45-90% of several species of sharks, with no population showing an increasing trend (Camhi et al. 2008). This is devastating to shark populations, as according to Stevens et al. (2000), it would take many decades for them to recover even if every shark fishing operation was completely eliminated.

The eradication of sharks in our oceans will result in devastating consequences to the marine ecosystems. Furthermore, conservation efforts must be undertaken to prevent such eradications.


Camhi, M. D., Pikitch, E. K., and Babcock, E. A. (2008). Sharks of the Open Ocean: Biology, Fisheries, and Conservation. (Blackwell Publishing Ltd: Oxford, UK).

Ferinicola, R. G. (2001). Twelve Days of Terror. (The Lyons Press: Guilford, CT).

Stevens, J. D., Bonfil, R., Dulvy, N. K., and Walker, P. A. (2000). The effects of fishing on sharks, rays, and chimaeras (chondrichthyans), and the implications for marine ecosystems. ICES Journal of Marine Science. 57, 476-494.

Stewart, R. (2007) Sharkwater. (Key Porter Books Limited: Toronto, Ontario).

Stewart, R. (2007). Sharkwater. (Perf. Rob Stewart and Paul Watson). Freestyle Releasing.

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