SCIENCE AND POLICY: Jaws, a “Monster” Misunderstood

March 1, 2012 12:00 am0 comments
Katharine Onofryton

Baaa……dum………baaa……..dum………. You know the song, right? Well, those ominous tuba notes have ingrained generations with the fear of a monster that does not even appear until an hour into that movie. The Great White Shark, aka Carcharodon carcharias, has inhabited the deep waters of the oceans along with other types of sharks for hundreds of millions of years. Yes, sharks, on the whole, are extremely mysterious, and very little is known about many of the species, but that is changing. As more is learned about them, the need to protect this predator has increased dramatically, and the tide is beginning to turn in countries around the world.

Recently, countries around the world have taken measures aimed at protecting sharks from overfishing threats and “finning”. Even in our own United States, California is now the fourth state to pass a law prohibiting the sale, distribution and possession of shark fins, as of October 7th.  The Asian American population opposed the bill, mainly because they felt that the bill unjustly targeted their cultural tradition of eating shark fin soup. At upwards of $100 per bowl of soup, this status symbol is a driving force for finning around the world. A year after the practice of shark finning was banned in the United States, Governor Brown’s signature has shut down the US west coast as a market and distribution center for shark fins.

Steps are being taken worldwide to protect the majestic creatures, and on October 2nd, the Marshall Islands established the largest shark sanctuary in the world, spanning 2 million square kilometers. This action is riding on the wave created by Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas, Tokelau and Raja Ampat, Indonesia, who have all also created shark sanctuaries, although none quite so large. Costa Rica has tripled the size of their shark sanctuary in Cocos Island. Mexico has declared a moratorium on shark fishing, and Colombia is slated to follow. Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have outlawed the shark fin trade earlier this year, and Chile’s fisherman cannot fin at sea, but must land in harbor with sharks whose fins are attached naturally. All of these policies are going to aid in protecting sharks from long-line fishing and finning, the process of removing a shark fin and throwing the body back into the sea. Most of the time, these finless sharks are still alive and slowly sink to the bottom of the ocean where they are often consumed by other fish. All for an overpriced soup whose flavor comes from the broth, not the shark fin, and whose nutritional benefits are virtually nonexistent.

Katharine Onofryton is a sophomore in the Çollege of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at konofryton@cornellsun.com. The Missing Link: Science and Policy appears on Thursdays. 

 

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