On a longline fishing boat off the Galapagos Islands, a concerned biologist working undercover as a cook films a horrifying scene.
As the camera rolls, a blue shark is dragged upside down out of the water, a sharp hook piercing it through the roof of the mouth and out through the side of the face. As the shark tries to wiggle free, fins flapping against the deck, a shirtless man enters the picture.
Soon, he’s using a knife to cut into the large pectoral fin on the shark’s left side. Another man steps on the right fin, pinning it down as the shark swings its tail in desperation, blood streaming across the deck. A second fin is cut off, then a third and a fourth, the other man now standing atop the struggling shark to hold it down.
Finally, they slice into the throat to retrieve another hook before kicking the shark back into the water. Nearly decapitated, the animal tries to swim off, half-spinning, half-slithering away—another victim of the cruel practice known as shark finning.
A cruel death
“Shark finning is like cutting off your limbs and leaving you to bleed to death,” says Rebecca Regnery, deputy director of wildlife at Humane Society International. “We don’t know how most of them die, but you can guess that they probably either bleed to death or suffocate, because they can’t swim, so they’re not getting oxygen. They can’t eat, because they can’t swim. Or they might get eaten by other sharks. So regardless, it’s a horrific way to die.”
Owing to the high demand for shark fin soup, particularly in China, tens of millions of sharks meet similar fates each year—from skittish hammerheads to naturally curious silky sharks to ponderous, slow-moving basking sharks.
Finning is not only gruesome, but dangerously efficient. Dumping the bodies and leaving the fins to dry on a boat’s deck frees up freezer space, which fishermen can save for more valuable meats like swordfish and tuna.
All this to provide for a luxury menu item, one that’s especially popular at weddings and Chinese New Year celebrations. Unbelievably, the fin itself is flavorless; it’s used instead for its texture and to symbolize status.