I'm grateful to creation care advocate and friend Anna Clark, who is currently involved in an anti-shark finning campaign in her state of Texas, for sharing this heartfelt post on behalf of a creature many of us might not think needs speaking up for ...
Growing up at the height of Jaws fever, I still get nervous every time I wade knee-deep into the ocean. I know my galeophobia is unfounded, but until this year, I had no idea how much so. True, shark attacks -- always media sensations -- result in about five fatalities annually. We humans, however, are biting back by killing 73-100 million sharks each year. In the span of a few decades, the ocean's top predators, including the great white, which has endured for 16 million years, have become our prey. At least one-third of shark species are now threatened with extinction.
Sharks, which mature late and produce few young, are being decimated in large part by the lucrative trade in shark fins. Shark fin soup, a delicacy signaling wealth and status, now sells for up to $100 per bowl in China. The value of the fins is far greater than the rest of the carcass, so out of convenience or ignorance the fishermen capture the sharks, cut off their fins, and then toss them back into the ocean, often still alive, to bleed to death. Just last month a story reveals that 2,000 shark carcasses were discovered at the bottom of the sea off the coast of Colombia. The brutal report is made even more sickening when you do the math. Shark finning results in such a death toll every 15-20 minutes. Realizing this prompted me to write this piece, taking my first small step toward doing something, anything, to stop it.
As with any cause I take up, I start by asking myself, "Why now?" Tragic and senseless as it is, shark finning has not been at the top of my priority list. There are many reasons why this is not the choice pet issue for the average Westerner. After all, this atrocity is happening on the other side of the world in a culture very different from ours. We don't eat shark fin soup, so we don't feel responsible for its consumption. Besides, with crises such as hunger and malnourishment threatening 1 billion people -- and the economic fears looming over the rest of us -- we frankly have more pressing concerns. At least those have been my excuses until now.
But come, let us reason together. Over half of the world's people depend on the ocean for their primary food source. Today, due to overfishing, we risk losing sharks -- and tens of thousands of other species we depend on -- to what scientists are calling the sixth great extinction, unique to the last five in history for one reason: humans are causing it. Ecologically speaking, as goes the shark, so goes the rest of creation.
A Face Only the Father Could Love
Most of us are programmed to feel threatened by sharks and consequently, we objectify them, fear them, and increasingly destroy them. This may be a human response, but it is not a faithful one. Facing facts, we are confronted by an undeniable paradox: we must find a way to preserve a creature that scares us. How do we ignite our moral conviction and desire for justice to take action to protect a creature as unsympathetic as the shark?
To begin, we might try perceiving sharks as God would. When he gazes on these exquisite beasts of his own making, what does he see? We can find clues in the bible. In the book of Job, for instance, God responds to Job's sorrowful criticism by demonstrating his power through such examplars of his creation as behemoth and leviathan, as well as more familiar members of his animal kingdom:
"Have you given the horse its strength
or clothed its neck with a flowing mane? Did you give it the ability to leap like a locust?
Its majestic snorting is something to hear!
It paws the earth and rejoices in its strength. When it charges to war,
it is unafraid. It does not run from the sword. ...
"Are you the one who makes the hawk soar and spread its wings to the south? Is it at your command that the eagle rises to the heights to make its nest?" (Job 39:19-22, 26-27; NLT)
Could not sharks, lions of the sea, represent another mighty testament to God's glory? If we accept that sharks are an intentional, even magnificent, part of creation, but then continue to look the other way and ignore them in their distress -- well, it reminds me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Fortunately for sharks, there are some prominent marine biologists, conservationists, and volunteers working feverishly to curb this massacre. They could use our help. Will we offer it to them?
Ben DeVries, creator of Not One Sparrow: A Christian Voice for Animals, offers an eloquent explanation for Christians' lack of engagement on such issues in his capstone paper on the biblical-theological foundation for animal welfare for the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School:
The call to governance has most often been traditionally understood in terms of humanity's entitlement to rule over creation and its creatures as we see fit, doing with and taking from it what we will so that our own needs, and often desires, are accommodated with unremitting precedence. Because of this flawed and hugely disastrous assumption, God's elemental intention for our governance has been grossly neglected. His will was, and remains, that we would not be self-focused dominators or oppressors of creation in any respect, but that we would be humble and compassionate stewards of all that he has made and forever retains providence over. I have found, however, that there is an ever-broadening and perhaps nearly unanimous consensus in recent evangelical understanding that the mandates to "rule" and "subdue," even the traditional "have dominion" (KJV), need to be understood in terms of stewardship and caring for creation, with the notions of modesty and service, tending and nurturing which this guiding paradigm contributes to our conception of rulership and administration.
Ben's research and that of other Christian animal welfare advocates underscores a clear truth revealed throughout the bible, starting on page 1 and stated over seven times in Genesis alone: God made the animals and saw that it was good.
As with so many other modern problems, the bible does not spell out precisely what we are to do about shark finning. Nevertheless, to disregard the evidence that we are to be responsible stewards of God's creation, which includes "the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems" would be a sin and a shame. The biodiversity of the sea -- from the sleek mako and the uncommon hammerhead to the formidable whale shark and even the misunderstood and maligned great white -- presents striking specimens of God's handiwork. These are all the inspiration that I need to protect them.
But an important question still remains. How do we translate good intentions into meaningful results?
What You Can Do
This issue, like so many other tragedies in our world, may be too big for any one of us to take on, but we can make an important difference by lending our support to those on the front lines. Here are several very worthy campaigns and resources to follow:
Regarding legislation, here's what I've learned so far. We cannot stop demand but we can cut off supply, each one of us in our own corner of the world. In January 2011, President Barack Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act into law to close the loopholes of the 2000 Shark Finning Prohibition Act. At the state level, Hawaii became the first state to ban the possession, sale, and distribution of shark fins, effective on July 1, 2011. Similar laws have been enacted in the states of Washington, Oregon and California, and in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
For my part, I am using this opportunity to get involved politically to initiate legislation in Texas, where over 200 restaurants still serve shark fin soup. If you have an interest in exploring this issue for your state, I invite you to contact me and I will be glad to help support your efforts, too.
(many thanks to Anna for sharing "Sharks in Peril: Humanity Takes a Bite out of Creation," originally posted at Evangelical Environmental Network's The Creation Care Blog, and for the kind reference to my seminary paper; please check out more of Anna's excellent blog and her book Green, American Style which we reviewed last year; photos respectively credit cbpix & Paul Vinten/123rf.com and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via Wikimedia Commons of confiscated shark fins)