This story appears in the July 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.
A hammerhead shark is pulled aboard a fishing boat 500 miles off the coast of Indonesia. Its flesh is not worth much, but its fins could fetch $100 a pound. The fishermen grab the shark, slice off its fins, and throw the animal, still alive, back into the sea to sink to the ocean floor.
According to some estimates, 100 million sharks from a variety of species may be killed annually, mostly to feed China’s demand for shark fin soup, scientists say. Historically most fins have gone to southern China, where the soup is a popular wedding dish. But an anti-fin campaign has emerged, using celebrities such as actor Jackie Chan and former NBA star Yao Ming.
Some say this effort may have cut Asia’s shark fin demand by 70 percent. The Chinese government has outlawed shark fin soup at government events. But it’s not clear whether the wholesale slaughter of sharks has really slowed. Fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly says the government action “is enough to eliminate finning from the radar of Western organizations. And it may continue under the radar until the last shark is caught.”