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As top level predators, sharks are an essential part of the ocean ecosystem; however, their numbers are dwindling due in part to a wasteful and bloody practice known as finning. Among all of the threats including global warming, declining food supply due to commercial fishing and rising sea temperatures, and sports fishing; finning is perhaps the most crucial of these threats.
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What is Finning?
Finning is the process of cutting off the fins of sharks from live animals then tossing the bodies back into the water. Shark fin soup and other dishes have become a delicacy for many high end consumers, particularly in Asian countries who use the soup as a status symbol and sign of privilege and rank. In fact, the fins of sharks fetch such a high price that fisherman have started slaughtering sharks merely for the fins alone. Shark fishermen catch sharks, brutally chop off the fins then throw the sharks back into the water where they die a slow and agonizing death, helpless to defend themselves. This is perhaps the most inhumane way for such a magnificent creature to die and is not only inhumane and cruel but is causing devastating ripples in the marine ecosystem; and all for merely a bowl of soup and to line someone's pockets.
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The Impact on Sharks
Shark populations are even more susceptible to hunting and other threats that effect their numbers than other species of fish because they are comparatively slower at reproduction that other fish and it takes longer for young to be born and come into reproductive age. Also, many sharks produce fewer pups than fish who lay hundreds of eggs at a time. Due to this and the massive exploitation by the fishing and finning industry, populations of shark have declined by as much as 90% in some species.
This unrealistic and greedy demand for shark fins is causing them to be hunted to the brink of extinction. This in turn effects other marine life as the prey is not held in check and scavenger organisms that normally feed upon dead and decaying animals have less food. Millions of sharks are being slaughtered before they can even reproduce, lessening the numbers of sharks and the food source for many of the microorganisms in the ocean which are essential for sustaining life. This effects not only the marine ecosystems but the entire planet as well.
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The Future of Finning:
Finally, the US under the Obama administration has begun to take steps to protect these amazing animals with a bill aimed at protecting sharks in US water from the terrible fate of finning. However, this would be just a step, a lot of work is needed to prevent this tragedy from carrying on while there is still a chance of protecting these citizens of the ocean. Writing letters of produce and boycotting any company or country that partakes in this terrible practice can also go a long way in protecting sharks while there is still a chance to save them.