WEB EXCLUSIVE: Man vs 'Food'
Peter Benchley once said that if he wrote the story of 'Jaws' today, the victim would be the shark.
Ever said that at a party, only to be greeted by blank stares? I love that quote. For one thing, it demonstrates a man’s eagerness to correct the possible destruction he has bestowed upon a species. It also allows me to enlighten the person standing in front of me with the blank stare: “Yes, in fact, some of my favourite dives have been with sharks”. This often earns me the “you’re mad” quote, but then allows me the chance to enthuse about one of my favourite subjects - sharks.
I saw my first shark (mechanical Jaws) at the age of 14 at Universal Studios, USA and it both fascinated and frightened me. I began scuba diving in my 20s and from then developed a love and respect for the oceans.
We as divers, are a pretty informed lot, and are aware of the beauty of our beloved oceans, and all that they contain. We are also largely aware of man’s part in the destruction of the very life they hold.
We have seen man threaten species before. The plights of the tiger, elephant and rhinoceros, among others, are well known. Decades of intensive hunting has pushed certain species to the point of near extinction.
We now know that the elephant is considered a keystone species in the African landscape. Tigers play an important part in being a 'top of the food chain' predator.
This is the backdrop to my passion. The shark is a vital component at the apex - or pinnacle - of the food chain and therefore essential to the harmonious existence of life on this planet. We are threatening that existence with the slaughter of tens of millions of sharks every year.
This passion led me to visit one of the Chinese restaurants in Oxford which listed 'Shark Fin Soup' on its menu.
My first problem was trying to open up a discussion. Easier said than done, when you are faced with unfriendly, paranoid staff who can’t decide whether the manager is available to talk to or not. Managers who were initially free to talk were, after I gave the staff details about what I wanted to discuss, subsequently unavailable.
I returned a couple of days later, but was once again rebuffed. I decided that if they would not take notice of me, I would bring notice to them.
Now, believe it or not, standing on a public path outside a restaurant in broad daylight, dressed in full scuba kit - cylinder and all - holding a picture of a shark, does attract a certain amount of attention.
As it happened, the first car that passed was a police car, but as I was not doing anything wrong, had to settle with driving slowly on - that suited me! Others walking by asked what on earth was I doing.
My local paper, the Oxford Mail, arrived to take photos and hear my story. The session was completed without any angry interruptions from Chinese chefs.
Before the story was printed, the paper contacted the restaurant to get their side of the story. This proved difficult, but eventually, the restaurant claimed the shark meat wasn’t real.
I followed the article with a phone call, with the intention of reporting them to the trades description act on the grounds of misleading customers. They informed me they were taking it off the menu and were not prepared to talk about the matter any further.
A week after the article was published in the paper I was invited by BBC Radio Oxford to discuss shark-finning and the supply of shark fin soup in local restaurants. It seemed people were really interested to know more about it all, and equally, were horrified to discover the facts behind the ruthless practice of finning sharks for soup. My little campaign was snowballing...
The shark remains the anti hero. You can bet your bottom dollar if these restaurants were selling panda soup, or tiger feet, there would be immediate uproar.
Let’s not forget, shark fin soup has no nutritional value, and no taste. The soup is often flavoured with pork, crab, or chicken.
In my unborn child’s cot, there are cuddly sharks to snuggle up to. It remains my belief that education is the key to changing attitudes, and preserving the beautiful life upon our planet, and in turn preserving our very selves.
The next time you see shark fin soup for sale in your local restaurant, speak up for the sharks, and speak up for our planet.
By Nick Kenny
Nick is a fervent supporter of The Shark Trust.
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