Sunday, January 25, 2009

Appreciating Sharks and other Predators in an Ecosystem

Today there is a Shark Fin Soup Protest in San Francisco's China Town. I'm sure the organizers planned this protest as an awareness campaign to coincide with the first day of Chinese (Lunar) New Year.

Shark Fin Soup is Chinese meal that has been enjoyed as a special occasion meal for hundreds of years, since the Ming Dynasty. The dish is tied closely to an entire culture for a very long time. However, human impact on nature and the ecosystems of the world has brought us to a new day. A day that requires us all to reconsider some of our traditions so that we can sustain our lives for the future. We can no longer consume resources and not think about the short and long-term impact of our decisions.

With today being to beginning of the Chinese New Year, and the protest being staged in America's most famous (and oldest) Chinatown, I am hesitant to bring unpleasant attention to a community when they/we are celebrating the greatness of a culture. However, it is a perfect time to garner attention to a very important issue. I support the boycott of shark fin soup because of the conservation implications of it.

Why Shark Fin Soup is A Conservation Issue?

Sharks are very important marine predators. Like wolves or bears or hawks that live on land, sharks are the top predators in the ocean. Predators are important for keeping prey species numbers and distribution in check. Without predators, prey species will breed and reproduce generations of babies with nothing more than weather or chance to keep them from over populating an area. When a species grows too big and too fast, the competition for food and space can become intense. Individuals of the same species will fight for food and space with an intensity unknown before. As resources become more scarce (because there are so many eating everything up) starvation becomes more common. And whatever you think of wild animals, starving is perhaps the most unpleasant way for life to come to an end. But that is exactly what happens when a population's growth out-paces the growth of its food resources. Moreover, communicable diseases become more common. With so many individuals living so close to each other, it makes spreading disease, viruses, and parasites too easy. This also leads to unpleasant die-offs of animals.
These are the reasons why predators are important.

Sharks are members of the ocean ecosystem and I would hate for the world to lose another great species. If you want to learn more about sharks and marine ecosystems, then
check out these great books about marine predators (and prey):
Tough, Toothy Baby Sharks by Sandra Markle
Or visit my friends Marine blogs and these websites to learn more.

Deep-Sea News including a post about Shark Ballet, you must check it out.
Southern Fried Science (I assure you, it is a Marine Blog)


Miriam Goldstein said...

I would add that out of 350 species of shark, fewer than 10 are dangerous to people. Less than 10 people in the whole world are killed by sharks each year. In comparison, lightning kills 90 people every year in the US alone and highway accidents kill over 42,000. Killing sharks is NOT protecting people - it is just hurting the ocean.

That said, I have mixed feelings about this protest. If it's coming from people inside the Chinese-American community, that's amazing & great! Where can I donate to their organization? But if it's coming from non-Chinese outsiders, I think protesting a traditional dish on the biggest holiday of the year is highly counterproductive. It immediately puts people on the defensive about their entire culture. Also, there's some VERY unpleasant history concerning outsiders marching into various cities' Chinatowns, and evoking that is NOT the way to convince people to stop eating shark-fin soup.

Unknown said...

I understand your concerns, Miriam. If you check out The Shark Safe Project blog site, they planned a different type of protest. Instead of marching and chanting, they're going to local restaurants that serve shark fin soup and passing out pamphlets (in English and Chinese) that educate about the health concerns of consuming shark products as well as the environmental impact. They planned the protest to be non-confrontational and respectful.

DNLee said...

Thanks Ladies. I appreciate both of your input. I completely understand the sensitivity issue and movements coming from within instead of from out-siders.

As a proponet of inclusiveness of the Green Movement among urban and African-American communities, I think it is important for the call to action to come from within. It's challenging. Hopefully, the protest in SF will go smoothly and respectfully. Fingers crossed.

And thanks for the rocking put-it-all-in-proper-perspective-statistics about Sharks, Miriam.

Save our Sharks!!!

Anonymous said...

It was great meeting you last weekend! I really heart sharks, so anything that improves the public perception of them is a good thing (even if it has a little ting or western imperialism).

No shark is really dangerous unless you trespass in its territory.

Kevin Zelnio said...

I too enjoyed meeting you last weekend! For another perspective, my coblogger Craig write this post last year about shark attacks:

Oh and Southern Fried Scientist just rolled out a new coblogger who is a shark scientist. Check back there for more on our Chondrichthyan Comrades

Betül said...

--well yeah, a shark would not make it that far, that I know, there is no such thing as bad analogy when the ultimate point is good-- :)

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