This week, Shark Week returned to Discovery Channel as it has every summer since 1988. Shark Week's programs tend to portray the shark as aggressive predators, mainly to titillate viewers – though not nearly as sensationally as the 1970s movie Jaws, which did deep and lasting damage to the image of sharks.
I've been pleased though at the rehabilitation of this image in recent years. More people than ever are not only fascinated by sharks, but recognize their critical role as apex predators in marine ecosystems. And an emerging consciousness about sharks cannot happen soon enough, given that dozens of shark species are threatened with extinction. According to best-guess estimates, as many as 100 million sharks are killed each year to supply the global market for shark products, including 73 million for their fins alone.
Shark fins are considered a delicacy in Asia where they are used mostly in shark fin soup to showcase one's wealth and honor one's guests. A bowl of shark fin soup can run as high as $100. This leads to unscrupulous fishermen engaging in shark finning – where fins are sliced off a shark, often while the animal is still alive, and the mutilated, bleeding body is thrown overboard.