Opportunistic restaurant owners target threatened animals for food
Discovery Channel’s Shark Week might sound like a celebration of sharks, but the focus is all too often on the very few attacks that happen every year. Now there’s a new problem, the week of programming has ignited demand for shark meat and led to various US restaurants putting on special promotions. With more than 200 sharks already on the IUCN’s Red List, and between 70 to 100 million sharks being killed every year, it’s an issue that could prove disastrous for our ocean’s ecosystem.
Shark tacos and shark-themed cocktails are just some of the menu items on offer across the country. While cocktails with shark-related names are relatively harmless, it’s the shark fillets that are the issue. One species that has come under fire is the shortfin mako, an animal that is already on the red list, and a species whose population is estimated to be a worrying 30 percent of historic levels.
To help put the animal’s plight in perspective, Angelo Villagomez, with the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Shark Conservation campaign, points out that the Atlantic shortfin mako’s “vulnerable” IUCN rating is the same as that of the polar bear. If anyone was caught eating a play bear taco there would be outrage, but when it comes to sharks people are rarely willing to lift a finger.
WildAid‘s founder Peter Knights says he isn’t particularly bothered that a few American restaurants are serving shark meat, given the overwhelming global demand for their fins. In fact, Knights is more concerned about Shark Week itself.
“I think Shark Week does more damage to sharks than eating the occasional shark in a restaurant,” Knights says. “Shark Week is all about vilifying sharks. They always have about 20 shows about shark attacks and none about what’s happening to shark populations.”
More than anything, sharks have an image problem – they tap into primal fears which make it easy for people to fear them. Sharks in the wild are often cautious, and in most cases prefer to run away. As for the great whites seen devouring chunks of flesh – they’re usually lured with bait and coaxed into feeding. Regardless of how they look, sharks an essential part of the oceans, and without them, there is a very real chance that things will start to fall apart.