Cruel reality of shark killings

The following story will expose the cruel reality of shark killings through the eyes of an underwater photographer.

Most of us have heard of shark fin soup. Sadly, the excessive consumption of this traditional dish from the Far East has become a worldwide problem these days and shark fishing is already present in almost all of the world’s seas. I have had the “opportunity” to meet some of these fishermen personally.

Every year in October and November longimanus appear near the reef of Elphinstone. I really like them, they are probably my favourite sharks. They awe me with their curiosity and impossibly long fins. In October of 2008 we were on a diving safari here and I was diving, looking for them when they suddenly appeared above the South plateau in waters a few metres deep. I spent a whole day with them and I was able to count six different species.

Two days later I travelled to Marsa Shagra which lies right across from Elphinstone, so we were able to sail to the reef every day. I anticipated and waited to experience the same encounters as in the past years but I was saddened because the news that awaited me were crushing: My “friends” were killed by fishermen. I could not believe my ears. During these two weeks, I was only able to observe two young specimens.

Later I travelled to Sudan and when the first night I was talking to dive guides about what had happened in Egypt, they sadly told me that two Yemeni fishing boats had been seized a few weeks earlier and they were filled with hundreds of shark fins! Understandably we were not too happy to sail out the following day.

A few days later I made a discovery dive at a reef where we usually do not dive. To my astonishment, I found a rope hundreds of metres long onto which wires were fixed with metre-long hooks, especially made for sharks. It took us hours to remove the trap. Some days later we met fishermen at sea who approached our boat to chat and to sell fish and as usual, we welcomed them with cold drinks.

Suddenly several things caught my eye. There were triangular shaped tools hanging from a rod and I saw the skeletal remains of a jaw on the roof. I asked to see it. It was of a tiger shark! It was easy to recognise the young specimen from the backward bent and triangular shaped teeth. The shark was about two – two and a half metres long, probably not yet mature. It was caught two weeks earlier nearby. I became terribly sad. I was not willing to make any photos and this time, there were no cold welcome drinks.

Some months passed and I travelled to the farthest point of Indonesia. At the end of the diving safari tour, we anchored at an island, far from civilisation. As I was walking on the beach, I discovered the maimed remains of a metre-long reef shark on a log, starting to decompose. I did not think the residents of the little village were cooking up shark fin soup every night!

Seeing this atrocity, I asked myself: Has the demand for shark fins reached even some of the world’s most remote and isolated areas? So it seems…

We were walking inside the airport in Jakarta when one of the stores caught my attention. At first I thought I was mistaken: There was a complete shark fins store at the airport! There were fins from small reef sharks to giant whale sharks, from a couple of dollars to thousands of dollars in price. Shark fin powder, fish meat in all kinds of form… It was all very heart-wrenching. Who would take home such presents from Indonesia…?

Millions of sharks are killed every year for their fins. They are caught and while still alive, their “valuable” fins are chopped off. Then the bodies of the sharks now deemed useless are thrown back into the water where the poor incapacitated sharks face their death at the bottom of the sea.

Where are the environmentalists and other protection agencies who call force-feeding geese for example an act of animal cruelty?! Then what do we call it when predators, that play an important role in the ecological balance of the seas, are slaughtered by humans only to make tasteless soup from them? I personally avoid and even boycott restaurants where they serve shark fin soup and I feel it is not too much to ask of all my fellow divers to do the same. I hope we can stop the killings and save one of the most perfect and for us, underwater photographers, the most amazing creatures in the world – the sharks.

Daniel Selmeczi

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