Photographs of tens of thousands of shark fins drying on a Hong Kong high rise roof top has caused an outcry on the Internet and complaints to the Hong Kong government about the practice. A photographer with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society received an anonymous tip that the rooftop was being used to dry more than 18,000 shark fins. Sea Shepherd photographer Gary Stokes took the photographs January 1, 2013. Those photos have gone viral on social media sites as well as countless TV news shows and websites.
According to newspaper reports, Hong Kong is one of the world’s largest markets for shark fins, which are used to make shark fin soup that is often served in wedding banquets in China. Last July, China announced a plan to ban shark fin soup at banquets, but the ban could take up to three years to take effect. The practice of finning involves taking a live shark, cutting its fins off and tossing the still live shark back into the ocean, where it dies. Chinese are the main consumers of shark fins, citing health benefits, even though a University of Miami study has pointed to shark fins as having high levels of a neurotoxin that have been linked to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig Disease (ALS).
It is estimated that more than 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins.
In related news, U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton rejected two Chinese-American groups request to stop California’s ban on the selling and possession of shark fins. The groups claimed that the ban violated the civil rights of Chinese-Americans by targeting shark fins, which are used in soup offered at Chinese weddings and festivals. The California ban took effect January 1, 2012. According to a news report in the Sacramento Bee, the market for shark fin soup ranked second only to China and Hong Kong. In addition to California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and Guam have shark fin bans on their books, and the practice of finning sharks is restricted in U.S. waters.