I am deeply saddened by the recent news reports of nearly 1,400 pounds of shark fins seized in Miami. Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is home to some of the world’s leading experts in shark research who have taught me a great many things, one of which is respect for these majestic animals.
Shark fins have no nutritional value, and therefore, there’s no reason to kill these majestic apex predators so people can eat shark fin soup. According to recent statistics, it’s estimated that more than 100 million sharks are killed worldwide annually—a large portion of them for the illegal fin trade. This number is clearly not sustainable. As we’ve seen in other ecosystems, when you eradicate such an integral animal, bad things follow.
Several species of sharks are protected under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is an international agreement designed to “ensure international trade in plants and animals does not threaten their survival in the wild.” While shark finning is outlawed in the U.S., fins can still be harvested from legally caught sharks or imported from countries without finning bans. Legislation has been discussed that would ban the import, export and sale of shark fins in Florida and my hope is that this legislation will be passed to further protect sharks for future generations.
For years, NSU’s Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) has studied sharks. One of the goals is to collect and analyze data that can be used by decision makers to enact sensible legislation to protect these animals.
Part of our research has focused on sharks genetics, which has yielded some remarkable discoveries.
Experts have long known that sharks show a low occurrence of cancers. The “why” has eluded us. Researchers at NSU recently decoded the entire genome of the great white shark in detail.
We’ve discovered that despite the great white shark genome being enormous – nearly 1.5 times the size of the human genome – it is remarkably stable. This stability is a defense mechanism to counteract the accumulation of damage to a species’ DNA. For humans, it’s quite the opposite, and it’s (at least in part) our genome instability from accumulated DNA damage that predisposes us to numerous cancers and other age-related diseases.
It turns out that sharks also show remarkable wound-healing capabilities. Researchers have documented such characteristics in sharks, but now our scientists have identified genetic proof for rapid wound healing.
So why does this matter, and what does it have to do with killing sharks for their fins? Quite simply, at a genetic level, sharks may hold the key to improving human health.
Beyond the incredibly important role sharks play in the marine environment, if you look at this from a selfish standpoint, humans should want to keep sharks around so we can continue this research. Sharks may very well hold the key to helping you or your loved ones live healthier lives. Perhaps…even cure or prevent cancer.
There are other reasons it’s important to protect sharks.
In Florida, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by tourists, many of whom come to enjoy the ocean. Sharks help keep the oceans healthy, which is vital for said tourism—a direct contribution to our economy and supporting thousands of jobs. If sharks disappear, the results could be catastrophic from both an ecological and economic standpoint.
Whether you find sharks fascinating or terrifying, they undeniably play a crucial role for humans and we owe it to the health of our planet, and the human race, to protect them.
George L. Hanbury II, Ph.D.,
President and CEO of Nova Southeastern University
Nova Southeastern University fully supports an individual’s right to express their viewpoint and opinions. The views expressed in this guest editorial are that of George L. Hanbury, Ph.D., President and CEO of Nova Southeastern University, and not necessarily those of NSU’s Board of Trustees.