Why are sharks decreasing at an alarming rate and why humans should care?

One of the main reasons behind the alarming decrease in shark populations is overfishing, specifically for the purpose of shark fin soup or medicine. Humans should care about this problem because they are the primary cause, but also because sharks are some of the top predators of their ecosystem. Their removal could be catastrophic to the natural cycle of the oceans.

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Shark populations have been diminishing for over 30 years, with the aggregate decline being as high as 90 percent of the world’s shark population gone from the oceans. The main cause of this enormous decline is overfishing. Asia catches sharks at high rates, as shark fin soup is considered a delicacy and sharks are exploited for medicinal purposes. As someone who has traveled through Asia multiple times and has been served shark fin soup by my hosts in fine dining establishments, I can personally attest to the desirability of shark fins for culinary purposes. The Chinese especially value shark fins for both their flavor and for their other purposes.

The dramatic decline in shark populations around the world is an issue of enormous importance for everybody. Nature, as students are taught, exists in a delicate balance—a balance routinely ignored by humans. Living beings exist as part of ecosystems. Survival of ecosystems is central to the survival of the planet as we have known it for thousands of years.

Sharks are a vital part of the oceans’s ecosystems, serving their role as predators and, occasionally, as victims of other, non-human maritime predators. As in all ecosystems and food chains, predators exist as a means of sustaining the balance organisms need to survive. To the extent that humanity relies on the oceans as a long-term source of sustenance, the destruction of maritime ecosystems means the eventual destruction of oceans as a source of sustenance. Sharks are an integral part of maritime ecosystems, so their elimination will result in the elimination of the ecosystem of which they are a part. That eventuality is the direction in which we are headed.

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