Skip to main content

How the world is saving the shark

By Tara Sonenshine, Special to CNN
updated 9:18 AM EDT, Mon July 15, 2013
An Indonesian fisherman cuts off a shark's fin on March 7. About 100 million sharks are killed each year, mostly for their fins.
An Indonesian fisherman cuts off a shark's fin on March 7. About 100 million sharks are killed each year, mostly for their fins.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tara Sonenshine: As China gets richer, demand for shark skin soup rising
  • International campaigns and help from U.S. have slowed the demand for the soup, she says
  • She says saving sharks is part of a movement helping elephants, rhinos, other animals

Editor's note: Tara D. Sonenshine is the former under secretary of state for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. She received 10 News Emmy Awards in broadcast journalism. She is also the former vice president of United States Institute of Peace. Sonenshine served in various capacities at the White House during the Clinton administration.

(CNN) -- As the summer ocean waves wash up onto America's beaches, we find ourselves thinking, nervously, about Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" and the paralyzing fear that sharks inspire in us. Yet, paradoxically, we celebrate global attempts to protect the declining number of sharks. The world has figured out we need these species, along with all creatures of the Earth, to maintain a delicately balanced ecosystem.

Sharks, in particular, are "in" these days. Thanks to good public policy and the power of public education and multimedia campaigns featuring stars such as Yao Ming, Jackie Chan and Ang Lee, killing sharks for shark fin soup is no longer cool.

Shark fins dry in the sun on the roof of a factor in Hong Kong, one of the world\'s biggest markets for shark fins.
Shark fins dry in the sun on the roof of a factor in Hong Kong, one of the world's biggest markets for shark fins.

The demand has been rising for decades, threatening sharks with extinction -- up to 100 million sharks are killed each year just for their fins. But we have started to reverse the trend, particularly in affluent areas of the U.S. and overseas where restaurants once proudly displayed shark fin delicacies on the menu.

In California, and other states, a ban on the sale and possession of shark fin soup has gone into effect this year after aggressive marketing campaigns by WildAid and other organizations.

Overseas, marketing and public diplomacy efforts featuring posters on public transportation systems and TV ads have been underway for the past few years. These efforts all show signs of success, on both the supply side and the demand side of trade in shark fins. Hong Kong's Census and Statistics Department tracked 3,100 metric tons of shark fin being imported from the island to China last year, but this year's numbers are way down.

Tara Sonenshine
Tara Sonenshine

Stopping the killing of sharks is part of a broader movement to stop the killing of wild animals and the trafficking of wildlife products around the world -- products that come from poaching elephants, tigers and rhinos, in addition to killing marine life.

Opinion: Elephant slaughter surges as ivory funds terror

CNN Explains: Shark attacks
Sharks help Wounded Warrior mom
Sharks at spring break!
Corwin: The puzzle of great white sharks

In November, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a global strategy to protect wildlife, raising the level of urgency to a growing national security threat.

For example, the poaching of elephants in search of ivory tusks for luxury goods had became a full-scale war between poachers, who are sometimes terrorists, and governments in parts of Africa. Illegal shipments of tusks across porous borders bring in the prizes of money and weapons.

Once a marginalized issue of U.S. foreign policy, Clinton and current Secretary of State John Kerry have placed wildlife trafficking at the top of the agenda, given its wide tentacles to Africa, Asia, Russia, Indonesia and consumers in almost every country.

According to National Geographic, which has been tracking elephant poaching, the financial losses place the issue on the scale of global drugs and crime, with an estimated 30,000 African elephants being killed for their tusks last year -- a rate of slaughter, say wildlife experts, that could drive the animals to extinction within the century. The dwindling of African elephant populations is alarming. Much of the ivory is destined for China to make chopsticks and jewelry, and the Far East, where it can fetch upward of $1,300 a pound.

Whether it is shark fin soup or ivory piano keys, killing animals is big business. Together with international partners, conservation groups, nonprofits and businesses, the United States is leading the worldwide effort to reduce demand for high-end jewelry, herbal medicines, skins, foods and other products that rely on killing animals and marine life. Working with governments through existing protocols and conventions, the U.S. is convening stakeholders to pressure those who provide sanctuary for the poachers or allow parts and goods to make their way out of countries to market.

Public diplomacy and public education, together with sound policy, give us a model for success. Using Facebook, Twitter, public service advertisements, the media, celebrity interviews, videos and classroom teaching, we can martial the forces to convince consumers that buying products that come from slaughtered elephants or harpooned sharks is simply wrong and dangerous.

And we can track the results of wildlife trafficking and punish the offenders.

This is one of those rare international tales of where the public and private sector, along with Hollywood, can create a very different kind of movie.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tara Sonenshine.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:15 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:28 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT