Over 60 nations this week signed an agreement to ban the killing of sharks for their fins in the Atlantic Ocean.
The ban was unanimously approved by members of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, including the United States. The United States has had a ban on shark finning in its territorial waters for more than a decade.
Sharks are killed for their fins which are used in soup. According to the Washington Post, a bowl of shark fin soup can garner upwards of $100 a bowl in Asia.
South Korea was one of the nations that originally balked at the ban, and the ban has a huge catch — any nation can opt out of the ban up over the next six months before it goes into effect.
An estimated 20 to 100 million sharks are killed annually worldwide.
Atlantic ‘shark finning’ ban signed. Associated Press, November 22, 2004.
Measure protects Atlantic sharks. Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, November 26, 2004.
Just two days after rejecting a similar measure, the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species voted this week to protect whale and basking sharks. This is the first time CITES has included a shark species on its protected list.
Unlike most sharks, both whale and basking sharks are filter feeders who grow to large sizes (the whale shark can grow to more than 60 feet long) by feeding on plankton.
The population of both species have declined in recent years in part due to the practice of finning, where sharks are captured, their fins chopped off, and the animals then returned to the water where they die.
The sharks are not fully protected from such hunting, but countries that do hunt them will be required “to take the necessary steps to prove that their trade isn’t posing a detriment to the species.”
UN body protects monster-sized sharks. Michelle Pinch, CNN, November 27, 2002.
European conservationists are joining a campaign to call for a worldwide ban on shark finning — where sharks are caught, their fins cut off while they are still alive, and then the sharks are dumped back in the water.
According to The Shark Trust and the European network of Sealife Centres, human beings kill up to 100 million sharks each year, with many sharks killed just to harvest their fins for use in soup.
Shark finning is a lucrative business, with a single fin from a whale shark or a basking shark being worth as much as $14,500. Total exports of shark fins from Europe in 1999 totaled an estimated 2 million tons.
The United States has prohibited shark finning in its territorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea since 1993, and in February 2002 extended that ban to its Pacific Ocean waters. Finning is also prohibited by state law as well in most coastal states.
Global shark-finning ban urged. Alex Kirby, The BBC, April 26, 2002.
The recent story of the young Florida boy who almost died from a shark attack made national news, but philosopher Tibor Machan noticed something odd about those news reports — where the animal rights activists?
Machan quotes from an MSNBC story describing how the shark tore off the boy’s arm. The boy’s uncle then wrestled the shark to shore where Ranger Jared Klein shot the animal four times and a volunteer firefighter used a clamp to retrieve the arm so doctors could attempt to reattach it. Machan writes,
Few among us would have hesitated at this choice: boy’s arm versus life of shark. Of course the boy’s arm is more important, and so the shark had to go.
Yet, there are millions of animal-rights advocates around the world, many of them Hollywood celebrities with easy access to talk shows and news reporters, who have remained completely silent about their professed view — namely, that human beings are not more important than non-human animals.
If, in fact, you accept the general animal rights view that granting special status to individuals based on their membership in a certain species (specifically homo sapiens) is immoral, it is hard to see how you could justify the “murder” of the shark. I’m surprised PETA hasn’t rushed out a special billboard denouncing those who would callously kill sharks in order to save members of their own species.
The weird thing is this: animal rights activists who did come out in favor of the shark in this case would certainly be roundly denounced. Yet when those same activists campaign against the very sort of life-saving animal research that led to the medical advances that enable people to survive such deadly attacks — not to mention the reattachment of severed limbs — they rarely face any sort of sustained condemnation. In fact, if anything, the media will often go out of its way to express a general uneasiness with animal research.
Shark versus Boy. Tibor R. Machan, The Mises Institute, July 11, 2001.