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One Reason to Protect Sharks? They’re Worth More Alive Than Dead

<p>© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock</p>

This post is an excerpt from this blog from CI's Scott Henderson, who has lived and worked in the Galápagos Islands for more than 20 years.

Shark Week is with us again, and so is all the gore regarding the bloodthirsty habits of these ocean predators. So, just how voracious are these "man-eaters"?

Each year, there are about 10 fatal shark attacks on humans. In stark contrast, humans kill millions of sharks every year - mostly destined for the Chinese market as the key ingredient for the tasteless, nutrition-less status dish known as shark fin soup.

In the Galápagos, we don't eat our sharks, even though they are - so to speak - our bread and butter. In fact, all shark fishing is banned within the Galápagos Marine Reserve, and in a groundbreaking effort a few years ago, the Ecuadorian government outlawed all targeted shark fishing in Ecuadorian national waters.

If there is such a high demand for sharks and the Chinese are paying so well, why would a nation do this? Indeed, why have over a dozen additional nations, including the Bahamas, Maldives, Palau, Honduras and others followed suit? And why have a growing number of U.S. states, including California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and Illinois, gone even farther to outlaw the commerce of shark fins within their borders?

One of the reasons is tourism potential. Dive tourism is one of the fastest growing segments within the already burgeoning nature tourism market. In Galápagos, the main attraction is sharks - and lots of them. A "set" of hammerhead shark fins may sell for well over US$ 100, as will each of the several bowls of shark fin soup that can be made from these fins. However, the average diver in Galápagos is paying well over US$ 5,000 each for the opportunity to see a live shark in the water.

Importantly, a dead shark's fins are used only once and benefit one fisherman. In contrast, a live shark can be seen multiple times, in multiple locations, from many dive boats. In fact, our tagging studies show that hammerheads seen in Galápagos have been seen later by tourists in distant locations, including Colombia's Malpelo Sanctuary and Cocos Island National Park.

Read the rest of the post on Conservation International's blog, Human Nature. Note: When this blog was originally published, studies indicated that humans killed about 73 million sharks per year. That number has since increased to 100 million.