Shark Fin Soup

I never really imagined I'd write a combined commentary on my two hobbies - food/cooking and underwater photography. How could they, with seemingly so little in common, ever merge into a single entry? In fact, with my enjoyment of fish as a main course and a photographic subject, one might even argue they are at odds with one another. They can hardly be performed at the same time (though easily in sequence - shoot, spear, cook), and - quite frankly - each is an expensive enough hobby unto itself, I'd hardly need to combine them.

Yet, during the Shark Shootout this year, the topic of shark fin soup was raised during our "shark awareness course". A commentary was born.

The cutting of shark fins is a tricky topic. Note that I said "cutting" because, in some cases, the animals are hauled out of the water, their fins removed - I'm sorry, sawed off with a knife - and then tossed back into the ocean, essentially immobilized and bleeding. One hopes that other sharks are quick to notice and put the suffering animal out of its misery before it bleeds to death or drowns due to water not rushing past its gills. It's reminiscent of elephants being killed for their tusks where, in both cases, a beautiful animal is killed for whatever vanity-feeding part of them makes the most money. Shark fins go for about $350 a pound, or $40 a fin. A bowl of bland shark fin soup will run you $10 - $40.

The problem is that sharks aren't easy animals to garner sympathy for. They're "ferocious, man-eating, teeth-packin', hundred-million-year-evolved predators; a finely-tuned engine of efficiency and predation." Right? Every single one of us knows someone who has been attacked, bitten, mauled, or worst of all, killed by a shark. Entire families are wiped out while sitting in their homes. It's practically an epidemic. Okay, not really. I know more people that have been bitten by other people than by sharks.

Hopefully, each of us attaches, even loosely, a loss to the killing of an animal regardless of its reputation. Something must die before you you can have sushi, stir-fry chicken, or a marvelously marbled steak. If we borrow from the great karmic bank when we take the life of an animal, what are we paying in return? Are we making the most out of that animal, or are we so completely removed from the process that we can simply trim off the bits we like best (or those that are the most profitable) and slap mother nature in the face with the rest?

Hell no. Be it oil, or air, or animal, a resource shouldn't be wasted just because it's convenient.

However, simply making the most of an animal doesn't, in itself, mean that there isn't waste. McDonald's is well documented in "Fast Food Nation" for using every ounce of a cow. By the time the suppliers are done with it, all that's left is a bell and a spinal cord. (You and your dog eat the rest.) McDonald's cranks out hamburgers which sit on a rack until they are sold, or such time as they are deemed "unfresh" and are thrown away. They kill extra cows so that someone won't need to wait 2:18 for a hamburger, a crappy one at that. In short, it's a waste on a much larger scale even though efficiency has been worked out to the gram.

I am the farthest thing from vegetarian one can imagine so I'm certainly not opposed to animals as food. Sharks are an important source of protein in parts of the world such as India and West Africa, but you can bet they use the whole shark. I respect what I eat, what had to happen for it to be there, where it came from, whether or not there is more of it, and what I'm wasting in the process. Ultimately, shark fin soup is not about food, it's about cruelty, greed, and incalculable waste.

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