Sunday, 30 January 2011

Say No to Shark Fin Soup on Chinese New Year

photo credit Shawn Heinrichs

Chinese New Year is Thursday, and celebrations will be happening all week long. While I'm all for dancing dragons, beautiful paper lanterns, fireworks and a shit-ton of rice, one Chinese tradition I will not be enjoying is shark fin soup.

Shark fin soup has been described as "bland" and "gelatinous." Not exactly something appealing. Yet, as a status symbol, it has been gaining popularity for quite some time as the middle class economy in China has grown.

The practice of finning is gruesome and wasteful beyond a doubt. Live sharks of every species are caught and their fins are cut off while the animals are still alive. Only the fins are saved - the rest of the shark is thrown back into the sea. Unable to swim with their fins now removed, the sharks sink to the bottom and die a slow death, often eaten alive by scavengers or smaller fish. Additionally, many shark species need to swim in order to push oxygenated water over their gills to breathe. Without the ability to swim, the sharks slowly suffocate on the ocean floor.

It was recently announced by the Pew Environment Group and a wildlife trade monitoring network called Traffic that the ten-year shark conservation plan set by shark fishing nations has failed. Agreed upon in 2001, recommendations included "identifying and protecting key habitat, ensuring catches are sustainable, and minimising waste and discards."

Of the top 20 shark fishing nations - which account for 80% of the worldwide catch (~100 million animals per year) - only 13 currently have national plans outlined.

"'The fate of the world's sharks is in the hands of the top 20 shark catchers, most of which have failed to demonstrate what, if anything, they are doing to save these imperiled species,' said Glenn Sant, leader of Traffic's global marine programme."

Due to the increase in negative publicity, and the knowledge spreading that shark fin soup is no longer a sustainable dish, many restaurants have been taking positive measures and removing it from their menus.

Says Bernard Ng, Imperial City restaurant manager in London: "Times are changing and this once popular dish has become less fashionable in recent years...I think it's a positive decision that sets us apart from other Chinese restaurants."

But what can you and I do about it?

Well, for starters, don't buy shark fin soup! Don't ask for it, don't order it, don't go to restaurants and events that offer it...Reduce the demand! You are in control of what you support, so make a conscious effort not to support this unsustainable dish.

If you're on Facebook, I highly recommend looking up The Global Shark Initiative. They're a great organisation that offers lots of information and opportunities to take action on behalf of sharks - simple things we all can do to make a difference, like writing letters or sharing information via links. Save our Sharks from a Bowl of Soup is a similar group.

If you happen to be in London, let's go on a date! There will be a gathering of awesome environmentally-minded people in Chinatown this week, organised by EcoHustler:

"On Thursday 03 February people from many walks of life will come together in London’s Chinatown to celebrate the arrival of the Chinese New Year, and also to show their support for local efforts to take shark fin off the menu. The global trade in shark fin is pushing these ancient and awesome creatures to the brink of extinction. Sharks are apex predators, so when they are taken out, ecosystems are pushed out of balance with devastating knock-on effects. It is estimated by scientists that 90% of the global shark population has already been wiped out.

Sales of shark fin traditionally reach their peak at Chinese New Year. By visiting Chinatown on that day with flyers detailing the extent of the problem, with a positive message sustainability, we hope to change attitudes for the better, and persuade consumers to change their dining habits to protect our oceans.

You are invited to join this loose alliance of marine conservation groups, environmentalists, scientists, students and other concerned citizens to make a stand for sharks."

The more, the merrier. :)

image credit The Global Shark Initiative & Din

More information:
Shark Nations Failing on Conservation Pledges - BBC
Shark Fin Soup off Menu at Chinese Restaurants - The Evening Standard
The Global Shark Initiative - Facebook
Save our Sharks from a Bowl of Soup - Facebook
More on EcoHustler's London Gathering

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Crash: A Tale of Two Species; The Benefits of Blue Blood - PBS

photo credit PBS

Limulus polyphemus; the horseshoe crab.

I have spent many a summer playing with these guys. I just love them to death, and have my whole life.

From the tiny... the HUGE. Seriously, that thing is half the size of me.

To the stranger, they look a little weird - and perhaps even a bit scary - but these creatures won't hurt you. Can't even if they wanted to. That's not a stinger - it's just a tail, their claws are too weak to pinch you, and they don't have teeth.

On top of being harmless, and arguably adorable, they've also saved your life. Yep, yours.

Horseshoe crab blood is a standard in medical testing. Possessing unique clotting responses, the blood will clot around and effectively seal-off harmful toxic substances introduced to the immune system. The compound is called Limulus Amebocyte Lysate, or LAL.

"Today, LAL has become the worldwide standard screening test for bacterial contamination. Every drug certified by the FDA must be tested using LAL, as do surgical implants such as pacemakers and prosthetic devices."

LAL has meant the horseshoe crab has been thrown into the pharmaceutical market, and we all know that's big business. A quart of the blood - which is blue, due to a lack of hemoglobin and a presence of hemocyanin - is worth $15,000 and the industry is estimated at $50 million per year.

"Adult horseshoe crabs are collected by trawlers and transported to the LAL lab, where they are washed to remove sand and other marine debris from their exoskeletons. Those crabs without visible injuries are placed on a rack and bled with a large-gauge needle. Up to 30% of the crab’s blood is removed."

While the LAL industry claims that bleeding the crabs causes no long-term injury, recent studies have suggested otherwise. It takes about a week for the crab's blood volume to be restored, and several months to rebuild its blood cell count. There is up to a 15% mortality rate, which means 20,000 - 37,500 crabs die every year. Populations have lax fishing regulations, and it has become a concern among scientists that they may be declining.

Researchers are currently looking into a means of creating the LAL compound without bleeding the crabs.

I like the closing argument of this article:

"Perhaps science can step in and 'give back' to the animal for all of the good it has done us."

I hope so.

Full article here (PBS)

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

World's Largest, Most Complex Marine Virus Is Major Player in Ocean Ecosystems - Consortium for Ocean Leadership

photo credit Fenchel & D.J. Patterson

Cafeteria roenbergensis.

Can I just say that I love that the genus name is "Cafeteria"?


So what constitutes a "large marine virus"?

730,000 base pairs, that's what.

It doesn't compare to the approximately 3 billion base pairs of the human genome, but for an organism science still isn't sure is "alive" or not yet, it's pretty substantial. In fact, it's the second largest virus genome in the entire known world.

"Much of the genetic machinery we found in this virus you would only expect to find in living, cellular organisms, including many genes required to produce DNA, RNA, proteins and sugars," says Curtis Suttle, UBC professor and an expert in marine microbiology and environmental virology, lead author of the study.


Full article here (Consortium for Ocean Leadership)

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Bizarre Squidworm Discovered -

photo credit L.P. Madin & Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Aww, look at that...face. Is that a face? I don't even know. What IS this thing?

A squidworm.

And it doesn't have a face.

Caught 6,650 - 9,550ft below the ocean's surface, the squidworm is a worm just like any you'd find in your backyard, although perhaps a bit more fantastic-looking. They appear to feed on "marine snow," which is composed of the tiny bits and pieces that rain down from the upper layers of the ocean.

"Fecal material, dead animals, cast off mucus...Not the most appealing sounding food," says Karen Osborn, marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

Possessing no eyes, the squidworm locates its food by using "frilly" organs on its head to smell the surrounding water for food sources. It swims through the sea using its 25+ pairs of paddles that line its body. It also has up to 10 tentacle-like appendages that seem to be used for either touch or smell.

A bizarre find, indeed.

Full article here (

Monday, 24 January 2011

Young Great Whites don't have the Bite - ABC Science

photo credit Wikimedia Commons

Forgive me if I thought this was completely adorable.

New research out of Australia suggests that although young sharks definitely have the teeth and muscles to chomp down on big meals, their still-developing jaws may be too weak to handle such a bite. This may explain why many shark attacks off the Australian coast are only one bite, after which the shark quickly swims away.

"Most shark attacks are carried out by young sharks that are still testing their environment and aren't yet sure what they can eat.

'The great whites involved are usually juveniles that might sustain jaw injury if they persevered with the attack,' says Co-author of the study, Dr Vic Peddemors of the Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre."

Main author, PhD student Toni Ferrara, describes these sharks as "just awkward teenagers."

Well sorry, but that's damn adorable.

Full article here (ABC Science)

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Belize Banishes Destructive Trawling - Huffington Post

One of my most favourite places in the world, Belize, is becoming a leader for countries trying to reduce their environmental impact on the seas. As of December 8th, Belize has placed a complete and permanent ban on trawling, one of the most destructive methods of fishing in the world.

A brief definition of trawling and its impacts:

"Bottom trawling is one of the most destructive fishing methods in existence. Bottom trawlers are equipped with massive, weighted nets that effectively clear-cut the ocean floor, destroying sensitive coral communities and anything else in their path.

Meanwhile, shrimp trawls -- which were operating in Belize until now -- operate in midwater, so they pose a different threat. They catch more untargeted species, or bycatch, than almost any other kind of fishing gear. Thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and untargeted fish are caught in shrimp trawlers around the world every year."

Belize is home to the second largest coral reef system in the world, - the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef - second only to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. It is a hotspot for divers and snorkelers around the world. (Personally, I'd highly recommend it! I wasn't diving at the time, only snorkeling, but I saw TONS of cool stuff and will definitely go back to dive as soon as I can!)

One of my own from Belize :)

Full article here (Huffington Post)

Senate Passes Kerry Legislation to End Shark Fin Trade - (

For me, 2011 has gotten off to a rough start (refer to Blog News on sidebar), but 2010 wrapped up nicely for sharks.

You may have heard by now…The war against shark finning and shark fin soup has been gaining considerable ground and attention. On December 20th the US Senate passed legislation led by the wonderfully environmentally-minded John Kerry to ban the trade in shark fins.

'The U.S. Senate has passed legislation by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) to end the brutal practice of shark finning in the United States. The Shark Conservation Act of 2009 strengthens existing regulations and closes enforcement loopholes, making shark fin removal illegal both on land and at sea.

“Shark finning has fueled massive population declines and irreversible disruption of our oceans,” said Sen. Kerry. “Finally we’ve come through with a tough approach to tackle this serious threat to our marine life.”'

The new act will close the loopholes for sharks finned before being landed on a ship and for ships "simply" transporting fins. It will also promote the conservation of sharks internationally.

Good work!

Full article here (

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Disaster capitalists: Halliburton to make Money off Oil Spill - The Raw Story

Here's a great question to chew over:

"Does a company that both builds oil rigs and cleans up oil spills have any motivation to prevent oil rig disasters?"

Some say no. When money is to be made either way, "it makes for a very complex decision-making environment that can become problematic," says University of Louisiana professor Robert Gramling.

The recent (as in days before the spill) $240 million purchase of oilfield services company Boots and Coots has some people thinking it was just too much of a coincidence. Could Halliburton have known that something bad was about to happen?

Personally, I'd like to think not...but you make your own decisions:

Full article here (The Raw Story)

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Bluefin Tuna Black Market (Huffington Post & FishNewsEU)

Well, I'm back. And I'd like to start off by writing about some articles I found while I was away. Although these are now several weeks old, I feel that they're still important and recent enough to write about anyway.

Starting with this one:

photo credit Felix Sanchez

You should probably all know by now that the bluefin tuna is an endangered species. If not, you haven't been paying attention and I secretly hate you. But anyway, I'll give you a second chance: The bluefin tuna is an endangered species. (Read: Stop buying it. Go for Pacific albacore or Atlantic skipjack, which are also healthier choices due to their lower levels of toxins like mercury.)

Weak regulations and a lack of official oversight have helped contribute to the species decline, as well as a black market trade.

"Each year, thousands of tons of fish have been illegally caught and traded, the seven-month investigation found. At its peak - between 1998 and 2007- this black market included more than one out of every three bluefin caught, conservatively valued at $400 million per year."

Members of the International Commission for the Conservation of the Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) met in Paris in mid-November to determine whether or not there would be a highly recommended moratorium on bluefin tuna fisheries. Obviously that didn't happen...Again, short-term interests have won out against long-term conservation and sustainability. The quota was dropped by only 600 tonnes, which is essentially nothing when talking about an endangered species that is overfished.

“This trivial quota reduction for the eastern bluefin tuna stock is a political decision, not a science-based one,” said Maria Jose Cornax, fisheries campaigns manager for Oceana. “Without an industrial fishing closure, it actually encourages illegal fishing and fails to ensure stock recovery. This political outcome is not good for the fish or the fisherman, and will certainly result in further stock depletion.”

"Biologists warn that at stake is more than the mere loss of a favorite source of sushi. Bluefin tuna, they say, are near the top of the food chain and their demise will have dire consequences for marine ecosystems. Without large predators, entire food chains may erode, leaving the seas overrun by millions of jelly fish and micro-organisms."

Full articles here:
Bluefin Tuna Black Market: How A Runaway Fishing Industry Looted The Seas (Huffington Post)
ICCAT Fails Again to Ensure Bluefin Tuna Recovery, say Conservation Organisations (FishNewsEU)