World’s Worst Predator?

January 10th, 2008   •   16 comments   

Think of sharks and what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Man-eaters? “Jaws”? Shark’s fin soup? After watching Sharkwater, my perception of these apex predators in the sea changes entirely. And how.

Thanks to my buddy Jason and Howard Shaw (Executive Director of Singapore Environment Council), I had the privilege of catching Rob Stewart’s beautifully filmed documentary depicting his life long journey of loving and protecting sharks. An underwater photographer par excellence, Rob captures the magnificent creatures in their natural environment and is seen swimming, cavorting and even hugging the oldest swimming predators on Earth.
What makes this movie especially sobering were the facts that it spewed out such as the following:

– Every year about 5 people die from shark attacks. Contrast that with 100 killed by elephants and tigers, and about 8 million from starvation.

– Sharks can only eat prey that can fit into their mouths. Their dentition (sharp inwards curved teeth) are inefficient for biting off large prey like man.

– As the top predator in the oceans, sharks help to maintain the eco-balance and control the population of plant plankton eating fishes. Phytoplankton is the source of up to 60% of the world’s oxygen supply as they take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen during the process of photosynthesis. By killing sharks, we are destroying this balance and accelerating the problem of global warming.

– Shark populations have declined by as much as 90% largely due to the shark finning industry.

– Every year, a hundred million sharks are killed for their fins. In the 90 minutes that I watched the movie, 15,000 sharks have lost their lives.

– One pound of dried shark fin can retail for $300 or more. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. Almost all of it goes to East Asian countries like China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and of course Singapore.

Some of the scenes in the movie were painful to watch, especially those capturing the senseless slaughter of sharks which were “finned alive” and thrown back into the ocean left to sink and bleed to death. Often, these victims become fodder themselves for other sharks and fishes – an irony to the king of predators in the oceans.

Others managed to capture the sense of mission, heroism and activism which drove Rob and his friends like Paul Watson, controversial founder of Sea Shepherd Society to undertake dangerous activities. These include stopping and capturing of renegade fishing boats intent on engaging in long-line fishing which is damaging to sharks and other large marine organisms like turtles.

All in all a great movie in the tradition of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth with an even more important message. As an Asian and a consumer of shark’s fin, I feel ashamed to be a part of the multi-billion dollar industry. In fact, if you think about it, much of the endangering of species like rhinos, tigers, bears, and whales are driven mostly by the food and purported medicinal uses in Asia.

I have made a silent pledge not to eat shark’s fins ever again. They are much better off swimming gracefully in the sea than in my soup bowl, and I don’t want to destroy the world for my son.

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  1. posted on Jan 11, 2008 at 7:35 AM

    Must have been one heck of a film, Walter. Will probably take a few generations for the message to sink in though.

  2. posted on Jan 11, 2008 at 9:00 AM

    I am very encouraged by your thoughts and actions, Walter.


  3. posted on Jan 11, 2008 at 9:03 AM

    Alamak. First I am asked not to eat turtle soup and now some MC Hammer(head) says “you can’t touch this”. But what if they serve it at the someone’s wedding? Boycott the wedding? Will refusing to eat my bowl and let MC Hammer have two bowls bring back the shark’s life?

    Just some food for thought (and not for eating). Hehe, just joking. I actually haven’t eaten sharks’ fins for quite a long time already (if only because I have not attended Chinese weddings for quite a while).

    So I feel that this call requires more than effort from just the individual level – the sharks’ fin trade is just too commercialised and there’s a lot of money to be made (and lost) by stakeholders.

  4. Lam Chun See
    posted on Jan 12, 2008 at 8:25 AM

    Thanks for the very well-written piece. Your passion comes through clearly.

    I think for many older Singaporeans of my age group; eating sharks fin is not a big deal; hence giving up is not a big thing; esp since it is so expensive. But the main trouble is that it’s traditionally a must for Chinese weddings, and many couples dare not remove it from the menu for fear of being criticised.

    But I think the problem is much less serious in Spore these days. Many of the younger couples are not so ‘traditional’ as to make shark’s fin a must as in our time.

    But, like the environmental problem, the ones that influence most are the big countries like China.

    The same problem goes for eating whale meat in japan. In 1985, when I was in Japan for a few months, I saw many articles in the English language papers condemning this Japanese habit. But when I brought it up with my Japanese advisor, he was very angry that outsiders should try to dictate to them what they can or cannot eat.

  5. posted on Jan 12, 2008 at 4:37 AM

    Thanks for this wonderful post, Walter. I can see that the production moved you. I still can’t figure out why sharks’ fins are de rigeur at Chinese weddings.

  6. posted on Jan 12, 2008 at 4:47 PM

    Brudder Walter: Think social media can be pretty effective when passing around such message eh?

    Guess both of us will be saying no to sharks fin… 😉

  7. posted on Jan 12, 2008 at 10:17 AM


    The message is certainly grim but it is not entirely hopeless. I feel that there is much that we can do individually, and somehow such things should start from home. For a start, my wife and I managed to convince our in laws to stop eating shark’s fin or ordering it even for Chinese New Year!

  8. posted on Jan 12, 2008 at 10:19 AM


    I think the honour should go to you too. Somehow, I was influenced by what you are doing, and felt compelled to do something for our world – not only for the plants and animals themselves, but for my son and future generations.

  9. posted on Jan 12, 2008 at 10:22 AM


    Thanks for the links to the blog post about turtle soup. Just a minor correction though. The majority of the turtles consumed here are the softshell variety which are almost entirely farmed. In fact, there are many turtle farms in Indonesia and Malaysia so I don’t think eating that would endanger them. These are different from the Green Turtles which are favoured in Western style turtle soups.

    I personally believe that if we start from the home, we are more likely to start a virtuous circle that hopefully spreads and influences more. As Siva would tell you, social media can be used for much good and I am always enamoured by what he did for conservation in Singapore.

  10. posted on Jan 12, 2008 at 10:23 AM


    Exactly my point. In fact, shark’s fins are known to concentrate mercury from our oceans. If you read about the horrendous pollution occuring in East Asian waters (Hong Kong, China, Taiwan), you would think twice about eating delicacies there.

  11. posted on Jan 12, 2008 at 10:29 AM

    chun see,

    I believe that the older generation of Singaporeans – or Chinese anywhere around the world – are not entirely recalcitrant shark’s fin eaters. What is needed is education and people who are committed enough to make a difference. This was what Rob Stewart has done, and he has done it in style with the movie.

    My mother-in-law put it quite clearly (in teochew) when she said that we are just “borrowing” the texture of the shark’s fin which is flavoured by the chicken, pork and other broth. There is little value in shark’s fin in and of itself, and the dread of mercury poisoning should deter one.

    As a tradition and custom, I don’t think shark’s fin weighs very heavily as one of the must dos in Chinese weddings or dinners. The rarity of the fins probably makes it prized as a delicacy, but it isn’t particularly auspicious or symbolic as a dish.

  12. posted on Jan 12, 2008 at 1:28 PM

    Hi Walter,

    Good on you! I’ve not taken sharks fin for more than a decade. Despite my dad and aunts comments that they don’t serve real sharks’ fins at wedding banquets and that they are predators, I still don;t feel good about eating it. One of my gal frens refused to serve sharks fin at her wedding.

    Must admit I almost got tempted at a friend’s banquet recently but will power got me through that.

  13. posted on Jan 13, 2008 at 3:28 AM

    I am so relieved to learn that the turtle used in the soup sold here is farmed. I will give up (the guilt of) eating shark’s fin for turtle soup anytime.

    But there is one problem – if you are eating your reunion dinner this CNY you will find that most restaurants only offer packages with shark’s fin as one of the dishes. I think it will take a long time and a lot of customer resistance to make them change that.

    But the effort on your part is still very commendable.

  14. imp
    posted on Jan 13, 2008 at 4:54 AM

    i’m just glad that among the circle of friends, we don’t eat sharks’ fin. and many have dropped sharks’ fin completely from their wedding dinners/events etc.

    well, till someone decides to perhaps set up a shark farm. maybe we’ll argue over animal rights then. but for now, extinction and preservation takes precedence.

    plus we’re divers. so deep down inside, perhaps we’re superstitious! hahahahah. ;P

  15. Vivienne
    posted on Jan 13, 2008 at 4:03 PM

    We can do whatever we can to protect nature. You don’t like to see shark extinct, I too don’t want to see the polar bears disappearing. Preservation and conservation are the way to go to make Planet Earth a better place for the future generations.

  16. posted on Sep 29, 2010 at 7:44 PM

    That’s true it’s the first thing comes to my mind because shark’s jaws are huge.

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