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No Fins, No Future – New shark education exhibit opens in San Francisco

(DiverWire) – Last week, DiverWire reported on the new exhibit at the Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco. Last week, DiverWire contributor Dawn Callahan visited the exhibit. Here’s her review and report.

“The goal of California Assembly Bill 376 is to save Sharks and the Oceans by banning the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins.”  In the dive community, this has been a long standing belief that if the demand is removed, the supply will replenish itself, thus halting the inhumane act of shark finning. Recently, the Aquarium of the Bay, located at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco has initiated a program along with an exhibit to bring the shark’s plight to the general population.

The Aquarium’s goal is to educate its guests with how finning occurs, how the shark population is depleted by this practice, and how the declining population has an impact on the entire ocean ecosystem.  In addition, they have a signature campaign with a goal to obtain as many cards as possible to present to the authors of the bill, California Assembly Members Paul Fong and Jared Huffman by September, which is when the vote is expected.

When entering the aquarium, a large display comes into view which includes a description of what finning is and its affect on current shark populations.  Also, it features a beautiful photograph of a large shark.  Aquarium guests can have their picture taken with the display by photographers.  In this same area, a video plays a recent WildAid’s Public Service Announcement featuring basketball player Yao Ming, along with children speaking about sharks.  Beside that are tables with signature cards, collection bins, and fact sheets, which reiterate what was on the display.  A short elevator ride to the main floor is the aquarium’s second exhibit dedicated to the future of sharks, and highlights the 2010 effort to help pass the Shark Conservation Act which produced more than 36,000 letters and drawings. Information about that campaign and a display of artwork pieces are found here.  From young to old, the select drawings are very telling of people’s concern.  While walking through the aquarium’s displays and glass tunnel of the many species of animals, campaign slogans “No Fins, No Future” and “Say No To Shark Fin Soup” placards are intermixed with the informational plates throughout the rest of the aquarium.  Before leaving the facility, there is one more opportunity for the guests to sign cards of support as they exit.

The Aquarium’s exhibit provides information and an opportunity for the non-diving community to gain information of how finning is affecting the ocean’s life-cycle.  As their exhibit is geared towards people old enough to vote, it is also teaching the younger children about what happens when an animal is endangered in its habitat.  However not as graphic as it could be, it does get the message across.

Driving the market for the fins is primarily Shark Fin Soup, according to Mr. Fong. However, he points out other important factors to be considered.  “Shark finning is unhealthy in all regards,” said Assembly Member Fong.  “It’s unhealthy to fin the sharks because it’s decimating their populations, it’s unhealthy to eat shark fins because of the high mercury content, and it’s unhealthy for the oceans’ ecosystem because once the apex predator disappears the ocean will fall like a house of cards.  Just like it was unhealthy to bind women’s feet, this practice needs to end.”  According to Assembly member Fong’s website, supporters of the bill include The Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance, actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton, Master Chef Martin Yan, Chef Charles Phan of the Slanted Door, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences, The Humane Society of the United States, WildAid, SeaStewards, Oceana, Natural Resources Defense Council, California Coastkeeper Alliance, Pacific Environment, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment California, Ocean Conservancy, Food Empowerment Project, Heal the Bay.

On the other side of the debate is Senator Leland Yee, who opposes this bill.  Found on the Senator’s website is a press release which focuses on greater conservation efforts, but not banning the Chinese cultural cuisine. “Unfortunately, this proposal is just the latest assault on Asian cultural cuisine.” He continued “rather than launch just another attack on Asian American culture, the proponents of the ban on shark fin soup should work with us to strengthen conservation efforts.”  Also found was a statement stating that there are some sharks that as well populated and should be fished, however he did not reference any particular shark.

The fact sheet obtained at the aquarium states that California is one of the largest markets for shark fins outside of Asia.  Banning the sale of fins could potentially have an impact of demand, and would help protect shark populations worldwide.  Additional details on the nonprofit Aquarium Of The Bay’s shark conservation efforts can be found on the website www.aquariumofthebay.com .  To assist in the effort, Assembly Member Fong can be contacted at assemblymemberfong@assembly.ca.gov while Senator Yee’s email is senator.yee@senate.ca.gov

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