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Asian Geographic

Michael Aw




Saving Sharks in perspective


Unlike dolphins, sharks are hardly adorable.  Bequeathed with a man-eating personality grossly exaggerated and promoted by movies such as JAWS, to many, a good shark is but a dead one. Yet, conservationists tenaciously expect a change of attitude and behavior by selling the message that sharks are cruelly killed for their fins and may eventually be extinct. As we all know most people only care to preserve that which they love and in this respect, not many people can say that they love sharks. Whilst we nature lovers may understand the concept, it is entirely strange to the shark fin consumer. Unless, one is a scuba diver or has some understanding of sharks, they are a mean looking animals that bite. 

To the average person, extinction of sharks may only mean to that it is safer for them to take a midnight swim! 


Recent shark conservation campaigns in Singapore initiated by WildAid resulted in fiery argument that is imperialistic for westerners to criticize Asian gastronomical habits, which were rebuffed with an overnight increase in shark fin consumption at all gourmet restaurants. Whilst education may work well with the younger generation, the current rich and affluent populace in South East Asian capital cities being told by western conservationist to give up shark fin soup, find their idea a little hard to swallow.  As far as they are concerned it is the British that are cruel with their hunting of fox and rabbits as a pastime, the Canadians are bashing all the cute puffy seals and the Americans have just about successfully wipe out their population of manatees and buffaloes.



Being an Asian with over 15 years of corporate life in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia, I can appreciate their social values and intricacies.  To buy a US$500 bowl of shark fin soup at dinner table for my loved one is not only to make a statement of success, but a filial gesture, a small token of appreciation to the elders. To celebrate a meal with such indulgence with friends is bolstering to the ego, and with clients is a silent bribe for their custom. Protecting finless sharks from being thrown back to die in the sea is a far away as 7th heaven, a foreign concept.    


Because of the huge profits made from the fin trade and intangible value of this profligacy among the kind of people involved, they are not easily persuaded by conservation arguments.  Don't go questioning the morals of the fishermen either; as we all know morals are governed by one culture, experience and the necessity to make a living. While the fishermen yield only the crumbs, the trade is a billion dollar industry to the fisheries and authorities. As such the demand for shark fins can only be reduced from the consumer end. 


Sometimes, we need a stronger fire to light up lanterns made of cowhide. Because most Asians are passive and law-abiding citizens, the most obvious way to save sharks is for respective authorities to outlaw consumption of shark fin soup. For the consumer to be able to imagine the brutality, the practice of slicing fins of sharks and throwing the animal back to the sea alive must perceived to be the same as chopping of legs of cow and throwing them back into the field to waste. If the conservationists, divers, NGOs and media are serious about protecting sharks they must boycott all restaurants that promote gourmet shark fin soup and they must lobby the respective custom departments to make import of shark fins illegal, perhaps punishable with extensive fines and imprisonment.    


But this is probably not going to happen therefore the next best way (in my o

pinion) is to make consumers fee shameful of the habit. I know, 'saving face' is a big thing in Asia. If we are serious about saving sharks, a SHAME campaign is a fresh and effective approach to reduce the carnage.     


Michael AW

(Hollywood recently celebrated the 25th

annivery of the movie with a DVD