As part of our aim to give young people a platform, this is an article by 15-year-old Finlay Pringle, who is based in Ullapool and is also known as the Ullapool Shark Ambassador.
Finlay is a marine conservationist, plastic pollution campaigner, Sea Shepherd Global Shark Ambassador and climate activist. He has been selected as one of 10 UK “Change Makers” by the Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield and has won numerous awards for his conservation work.
Finlay has always had a love for the marine environment and especially sharks. Since the age of 10 he has campaigned relentlessly to raise awareness about sharks and why they must be protected not feared. He has campaigned to stop restaurants serving shark fin soup and even took on Bear Grylls in 2018 over his shark dive experience at his new adventure park in Birmingham.
In December 2018 he was the first school child in Scotland, and possibly the UK, to start climate striking. He joined the Friday’s For Future movement started by Greta Thunberg, as he saw the impact that climate change was having on the marine environment. In the last 3 years he has travelled to the Scottish and European Parliaments to speak directly with politicians about climate change and given numerous talks, television, radio and newspaper interviews about all of these issues.
Shark!… When you hear that word you probably hear the Jaws theme tune ringing in your ears – you think of terrifying sea creatures that will kill you with a single bite. But that isn’t anywhere near the truth. If you look at the statistics, roughly 5 people are killed by sharks each year. That compares to 13 people killed by vending machines, 62 deaths to bees, wasps and hornets, 3000 to hippos and 259 to selfies annually!! Yet, we as a species kill 100 million sharks every year. That equates to 3 every second, 3..6..9..12..15..18.. By the time you have read this blog another 1000 sharks will have been killed.
Most of the sharks killed, 75 million of them, are used for making shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. But the issue isn’t just over there. Currently here in the UK there are restaurants who serve shark fin soup, even though it is illegal. Until very recently you could legally bring 17.5 kg of shark fins into this country for cultural reasons – some people then sell them to Asian restaurants allowing them to make and sell shark fin soup. For the last year I have been campaigning, along with a lot of the UK shark charities, like Bite-Back, to raise awareness around this issue with the Government . A recent petition gained over 100,000 signatures and was discussed in Parliament. However, after initial support, the Government changed their minds. But, thankfully, a private member’s bill should hopefully mean that politicians will ban the import of shark fins into the UK forever.
Even worse, if you go to your local fish and chip shops and order rock huss or rock salmon you are actually eating shark. The shark you are eating is spiny dogfish. Their numbers have decreased by 95% globally, making them critically endangered.
Globally sharks are in serious trouble. Overall shark, ray and skate numbers have reduced by a massive 71% in the last 50 years, due to overfishing and bycatch. At the moment we are campaigning to highlight that European airline companies carry shark fins as cargo which is being taken to Asia. Spain and Portugal are the main exporting countries. You can help by signing and sharing the petition here: https://flywithoutfins.org/
Why are sharks important and why do we need to protect them?
They are apex predators – like lions, tigers and polar bears. They have been around in our oceans for over 400 million years – even before the dinosaurs, and have helped to create the amazing marine environment we have today. They help keep the oceans and fish stocks in a healthy balance by removing sick, weak fish and stopping fish populations from becoming too numerous. Visually I like to think of the marine environment like a Jenga tower – if you remove too many of it’s vital building blocks eventually the whole thing collapses.
Why is the health of the oceans so important ?
Well I’m sure most of us are aware of climate change and how it is affecting our lives now and in the future. We need the oceans to be healthy in order to help stop climate change. The oceans produce over 50% of the oxygen we breathe and absorb over 50% of the CO2 we produce. They have also absorbed much of the global increase in temperature over the last 100 years, without which our planet would already be uninhabitable. So, healthy oceans need healthy shark populations. If the sharks die out then the oceans are in trouble, and if the oceans die we die.