Just When You Thought It was Safe to Go Back in the Water
The most dangerous predators of all come out of the water and up onto the beach and line up at the “all-you-can-eat” seafood buffets. When it comes to having a taste for flesh, whether it’s leg of lamb, chicken breast, a fish filet, or shark steak, the biggest predator of them all—humankind—has a meat addiction that kills more than 100 million sharks and billions of other sea animals annually, in contrast to the approximately 10 people killed worldwide by sharks every year. But unlike humans, sharks are natural carnivores. They can’t plant vegetables, bake bread, or cruise the supermarkets.
To get fish into supermarket carts and onto restaurant plates, huge nets, sometimes miles long, are stretched across oceans, swallowing up everything and everyone in their path. These are plastic, weighted gillnets that hang like curtains, generally to a depth of 30 feet. Because gillnets are left unmonitored, trapped fish can suffer for days. When hauled up from the deep (along with dolphins, turtles, seals, and other unintended victims), fish slowly suffocate or are crushed to death, their eyeballs bulging out of their heads from the pressure of sudden surfacing. Others are still alive when their throats and bellies are slit open.
- Between the early 1970s and late 1980s, the prevalence of many shark species found along the Southeastern Coast of the U.S. declined by as much as 80 percent. (NOAA)
- Sharks are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they grow and mature slowly, have long gestation periods, and produce few young at a time.
- Great white sharks are on the World Wildlife Fund’s “10 Most-Wanted” list. They cite a burgeoning trade in teeth, jaws, and fins, coupled with increased commercial and sport fishing, for pushing the great white shark into the ranks of wildlife most at risk from unregulated international trade.
The injury recently suffered by a shark attack victim offers us a glimpse into the terrifying experience that these fish endure when they are hauled out of their environment only to be pitch-forked back into the water after their fins have been sliced off. While their fins are made into “delicacies” such as shark-fin soup, the sharks themselves either suffocate or slowly bleed to death.
If you care about predators in the water—or ending up in intensive care because of your diet—the best thing that you can do is to go vegetarian before your next trip to the ocean.