San Francisco Shark Fin Consumption Contributes to the Decrease of World Sharks

KQED Forum Show on the State Shark Fin Ban  

A State shark fin ban is about sustainability.  Supply cannot meet the demand. 

The California shark fin market is contributing to a world decimation of sharks.

Sharks are important to the health of the oceans and directly to peoples of all cultures.

With the Hamilton Lab at the California Academy Sciences Sea Stewards sequenced the DNA of shark fins bought in San Francisco.

Of 19 samples that were successfully sequenced discovered 14 species including sharks that inhabit California waters.  Over half are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN and one was is a species threatened with endangerment.

The latter was the prepared noodle and completely unrecognizable.  Others were from species that live in the Indian and Atlantic oceans as well as the Pacific Ocean.  This is an international trade affecting sharks worldwide.  As Dr. McCosker said, sharks cannot be farmed due to their biology.  There is no sustainable source of shark fins from any fishery to support the demand.

To screen sharks at the ports is unviable.  DNA analysis is a time intensive, costly and laborious process and cannot be (as one caller suggested) used on a large scale to screen sharks.

This is about sustainability.  There are sustainable alternatives to shark fin soup.

 We are joined by Asian Americans and Asian American groups like the Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance in supporting sharks and banning the sale of shark fins.

Senator Yee has been informed in meetings about the facts.  We hope that he will change his stance and support sustainable solutions independent of any culture.

White Shark Attacks and The Devil’s Teeth

Young Surfer dies in Fatal Shark Attack

In grade school we learn to look both ways before crossing the street. We know that we share the ocean with sharks.  Why is it such a shock when there is a shark attack when the sharks are frequenting our waters?  It’s a risk, a known risk, yet it still stirs something primal when we hear of a white shark encounter.

It’s Sharktober. Surfers in the red triangle have known for decades that the large white sharks visit our California waters every August through October.  Over 50% of the shark attacks in California have occurred during these months.  Over 50% of the white shark attacks occur in the red triangle, the region encompassing Point Reyes, the Farallon Islands and down to Big Sur.

But statistics don’t ease the actual pain of loss from a shark attack. It is sad that while we are celebrating sharks here in San Francisco a body boarder has just died off the coast north of Point Conception.  The waters along that remote shore are turbid, rich with seals and sea lions, and unfortunately, a body boarder looks too much like the natural prey of the ocean’s top predator.  Like the great majority of attacks however, the shark bit and did not return to bite again, but the victim died from blood loss and shock before he could get aid. My colleague Dr. John McCosker has recently said to the press- “your best chance of survival is to kayak or dive or surf where others can help you.”  That is sound advice, but in this case the surfer's friend could not get aid in time.  

Devils Teeth

Ironically, last night I attended the premiere of Bob Talbot’s film on the Farallones, Sanctuary in the Sea featuring white sharks and a man who has likely had more encounters with white sharks than anyone else in history. 

A beautiful rendition of the short film The Devils Teeth writ large, this HD production features the career of Pt Reyes diver Ron Elliot and his experience diving at the Farallon Islands.  Talbot being Talbot, the film has extraordinary images of wildlife from Common Murres, to Sea Lions to the star, the Great White Shark. Diving alone for sea urchins, Elliot- a local legend- recounts his experiences and his visions of being in the water with white sharks over decades.  Also a cameraman, Elliot’s images of the largest white sharks in the world cruising past in the dim obscurity are ghostly, yet strangely peaceful.  Accompanied by the surf sounds of the Mermen, this film is dramatic, uplifting and motivates us to appreciate sharks and all the wildlife of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.  The film will be screening regularly at The California Academy of Sciences.

As a shark conservationist associated with the California Academy of Sciences, we have been celebrating sharks in a month long awareness effort called Sharktoberfest. These events have been intended to raise awareness on threats to sharks worldwide from overfishing to shark finning.  On average, five people die of shark attacks each year. On average, humans kill one hundred million sharks.  Those are odds not very favorable to the sharks.

Statistics are statistics. The odds are we wont be attacked when surfing.  The odds are we will survive a white shark attack.  But the odds can’t ameliorate the loss of a fellow surfer. My heart goes out to the family and friends of the young man. The ocean can be a dangerous place, and there is something beautiful, even essential about wildness and wild animals. Just like crossing the street, surfers and other water men and women take their risks willingly when they enter the ocean.  

As the survivor of a white shark attack, my friend and fellow advocate Jonathan Kathrein has an interesting perspective.  “It’s their ocean, we are just visitors.” 

Lets visit the ocean with respect and caution, not just during Sharktober, but all year round.  Tomorrow night at our shark benefit, we will share a moment of silence for the surfer who was unfortunate to become a statistic.