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 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT