Talking sharks

By Serina Rahman
Photo by Effendy Rahaman

erahaman_talk1We’ve seen it all before on the big screen – teeth, jaws, that cavernous gaping trapdoor to the depths of a shark’s stomach – but is that REALLY all there is to these dastardly demons from the deep?

“Definitely not,” says KL Kwang, underwater photographer and avid naturalist, “Sharks wouldn’t want to eat us because we don’t taste good.  We don’t have enough fat.”  So those of us with ample extras should stay away from the water then eh? …Actually no…  Kwang goes on to explain that sharks touch and feel with their snouts.  So while you might think that grey toothy creature is eyeing you for lunch – it could just be nuzzling up to you to work out what strange gangly thing had entered its waters, disturbing its peace with panic-stricken thrashing.

erahaman_talk3Thus began Kwang’s shark talk (January 18, 2006). After debunking Hollywood’s myths, Kwang enlightened us all with lots and lots of little known shark facts.  There was not one person who left that evening without learning something new.  For instance, did you know that sharks urinate through their skin?  So that shark’s fin in your bowl of chicken soup had actually been oozing with shark pee when it was still attached to its owner.  How appetising is that?

Of course, no shark talk by a conservation group is complete without some comment on shark’s fin soup – but this was no tirade by a fanatic fish-hugger.  Kwang simply gave us the facts: that the fin has no taste; that eating it does not save you from cancer – instead you might end up with mercury poisoning.  And while many might see the consumption of shark’s fin soup as the ultimate symbol of status and achievement, what status does it convey today when it is so common, it can be bought in a can?

But while the shark enthusiast delivered the dirt calmly, the audience (some of whom had been taking notes) erupted with emotion.  Incensed by explicit photos generously donated by Eric Chang of his visit to the shark finning industry of Ecuador, a loud and highly-charged discussion ensued about the needlessness of shark’s fin soup.  In the end, the unanimous consensus was that the shark’s fin is much better left where it came from – on the shark.

erahaman_talk2Kwang’s talk was not entirely negative and dripping with blood and gore, however.  To calm the now volatile audience, he said with his characteristic cheeky grin, “Let me show you why I love sharks.”  Then the floodgates opened – photo after stunning photo of sharks – common ones, strange ones, rare ones… this was a tribute to the beauty and strength of our most important marine predator.

Amidst the oohing and aahing of the audience, a young listener gaped at the vast open mouth of the basking shark (an utterly harmless plankton eater) and asked, “What would happen to you if you got sucked into that shark’s mouth?”  “He’d spit you out,” responded Kwang.  And that really was the moral of the story: sharks don’t want to eat us… and we need to stop eating them.

The Marine Group is planning to launch a campaign to save the sharks (and their fins) soon. If you know of anyone who has done something special for the sharks (gave a lecture at their shark-free wedding, converted their company into not serving shark’s fin soup etc) or if you’ve been to a restaurant that chooses NOT to serve shark’s fin soup – do get in touch, we’d like to do a write-up on them. Send your contacts/ stories to Serina at