Written by Amos Nachoum

What is shark finning?  It means you capture a shark, slice off their dorsal fin, and then tossing the shark, who is now unable to swim, back into the water, where it dies a slow death. Brutal. But people do it, because the shark’s fins are considered more valuable than the remainder of the shark.  This wasteful and destructive practice contributes to loss of thousands of these amazing creatures each year.

Here is how sharks are meant to be seen, free and wild.

In the last 15 years people – not just divers and conservationists, but a broad group of people who care about the ocean – have been campaigning against finning.  Shark finning has been banned in many countries and in many international waters. Recently, the Toronto City Council voted to support a ban on the sale and consumption of shark fin and California initiated a ban on shark finning.

Will these new laws change anything?  Well, the first thing they have to change is the way people behave, and that starts with how they think about the ocean’s creatures.

You probably know that shark fin soup is considered a delicacy of the affluent in Asian culture, and it’s often served at wedding ceremonies and at restaurants as a symbol of status. The U.S. accounts for a very minor amount of shark fin sales, and so making the practice of shark finning illegal here might not change anything.  Some people think it might push shark finning even further into the “black market” –  raising prices and causing more of these animals to be slaughtered every year because of potential higher profit.

To help change behavior and make people more aware of the damage of shark finning, celebrities such as basketball star Yao Ming have come out on the anti-shark soup side. Fashionable restaurants are now offering soups with shark fin alternatives. Anti-shark fin soup billboards now display in bus stations in Beijing and China with the funds collected being rolled into additional anti-shark fin media campaigns. But there’s a still a lot to be done. Shark fin soup is not only fashionable among the wealthy classes of Hong Kong and China. Nevada – with a large Asian tourist trade in Las Vegas – has so far resisted a ban on shark finning.

As Brian Walsh, senior writer at TIME, recently wrote: “If we’re going to save sharks, we need to start treating them as animals worth saving.”

I agree.

Yao Ming photo by Keith Allison via Creative Commons License.