July 4th, 2008
05:43 PM ET

A taste for soup – a bite out of a population

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/04/art.ling.pip2.jpg caption=""Shark fins unloaded at a port in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Because shark meat is worth much less, sharks are finned and thrown back into the sea... often still alive."]

Editor’s note: CNN’s award-winning Planet in Peril returns this year to examine the conflict between growing populations and natural resources. Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Lisa Ling travel to the front lines of this worldwide battle. Ling has been a co-host of The View, correspondent for The Oprah Winfrey Show, National Geographic and Channel One. She filed this blog from Taiwan on how shark-finning operations that have helped deplete the oceans of more than 90 percent of shark species.

Lisa Ling
AC360° Special Correspondent

This experience has been quite an education for me. I, frankly, have been terrified of sharks all of my life. That's because pop culture and sensational news reporting have perpetuated the notion that sharks are the fiercest attackers of humans in the animal world. I was surprised to learn that this is to the contrary. Worldwide sharks kill an average of 10 people every year. According to WildAid, humans kill up to 70 million sharks over the course of a given year. Who's the bigger killer?

Because of films like "Jaws," humans have been conditioned to fear sharks. They are considered to be the most maligned animals in the world. Sharks predate dinosaurs and have roamed the oceans for 400 million years.

They are the ocean's top predator and essential for the ocean's ecosystem.

We spent the morning at Taiwan's largest port in Kaoshiung yesterday. A fishing boat that had been at sea for more than a year came in to unload. We watched them take out what seemed to be hundreds of sharks and thousands of fins.

Often shark bodies are thrown overboard because they take up valuable boat space and have little value. It's the fins that are the prize. Of a sharks about 8 fins, only 4-6 of them kept. That means that an entire shark is often killed for 4 or 6 fins.

In Taiwan, shark finning is not illegal but because of the attention is getting, people are very sensitive about talking about it. At the Kaoshiung Port, our cameraman was pushed around and we were repeatedly told not to shoot the fins.

The market for shark fin soup has exploded in recent years. It has such a high value, that mafias have allegedly sprung up to get in on the action.

With China enormous population and it's booming economy, more and more people are wanting to consume shark fin products as a symbol of wealth. China's middle class alone is a population the size of the U.S. The size of this new consumer is having a devastating impact on the world's sharks and thus, on OUR oceans.

Filed under: Lisa Ling • Planet in Peril
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. BeccaBee

    Thank you for helping to bring this clear case of gluttony and avarice to the world's attention. Hopefully, with increased awareness and education, world opinion will serve to moderate China's (and others) shark fishing practices before this ecosystem collapses and visits grave consequences upon all the peoples of the world..

    July 8, 2008 at 7:53 am |
  2. Michael

    I would like to know where this data is being pulled from. It would seem to me that with numbers as large as these that the population of sharks would have almost certainly dwindled by this point if in fact 70 million are taken from the ocean on any giving year. With this being the case one could also safley assume that the sharks would have been put on the endangered list by now. I don't know....food for thought anyway!

    July 7, 2008 at 10:12 pm |
  3. Ratna, New York, NY

    Dear Lisa Ling,

    I guess that we should not buy fish from the Asian markets anymore. Sushi culture is growing and adopted by the American eating culture. A way to save the eco-system is to jeopardize the market for these products.

    Good news! The Viagra industry has turned out eco-friendly. How? Seals are not hunted and killed as much for their organs that is used as aphrodisiacs. Viva Viagra!!!

    July 7, 2008 at 7:28 pm |
  4. Anna - chicago ,il

    This whole situation is just so disturbing..70 million sharks. I assume that there is no regulation as to how much can be fished or else the number wouldn't be so large and the outrage wouldn't be so great. Why is it not illegal to kill these endangered animals in Taiwan? I know that here is the US there are regulations for fishing..for example, the crab fishermen off the coast of Alaska cannot fish over their individual quota or else they will pay huge fines. This ensures that there is enough crab for the next season (also the size of the crab is regulated..small ones go back into the ocean). If they don't want to make it illegal... then there should at least be some system in place..I assume that this horrible practice will not end anytime soon. Teaching people the concept of self responsibility will not be easy. Unfortunately, this over-killing of animal species is not just unique to sharks, but to many beautiful creatures. People aren't looking at the big picture here.

    July 7, 2008 at 4:04 pm |
  5. Kathy, Chicago

    My son has always been fascinated with sharks We've seen shark week many times. We were also lucky enough to have family in Florida and Myrtle Beach, SC. We have sifted for shark's teeth and seen local fisherman catch baby sharks and throw them back to sea. We've also seen them in countless zoos, marinas, and oceanariums. They are beautiful creatures. I understand people's desire for sharks, but must we be gluttons about it? If we don't start replacing what is takes from the ocean, eventually it will run out of bounty. We need to start working on a plan to replenish sharks, tuna, and everything else that is being overfished. I'm so glad you are working on this story.

    July 6, 2008 at 1:47 pm |
  6. pat

    So glad that Lisa Ling is going to be working on this...she's amazing a such a real person. I really admire her and hope to see more of her.

    July 6, 2008 at 3:21 am |
  7. Don, WA

    "As a surfer, I've always considered eating shark really...really...Bad Karma."

    July 6, 2008 at 12:19 am |
  8. Peter aka Breez991. Lakeworth Florida 33463

    Never forget who civilized them

    I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the son's of men , that god might manifest them, and that thy might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the sons of man, befalleth beasts; as the one dieth so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: For All Is Vanity. [ECCLESIASTES 3:18-19.]

    July 5, 2008 at 6:19 pm |
  9. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    We need to stop the demand for these fins and then the money won't be there. We need to stop this short sighted money blinded industry. The environment can't handle it.

    Anyway, Beef cartilage is a better for glucosamine than shark cartilage.

    July 5, 2008 at 1:20 am |