Voyage of the Odyssey Voice from the Sea
What is the Voyage of the Odyssey Track the Voyage Interactive Ocean Class from the Sea Patrick Stewart
> Odyssey Logs -
Search by Region
- Atlantic Ocean
- Mediterranean Sea
- Mauritius
- Sri Lanka
- Maldives
- The Seychelles
- Indian Ocean
- Australia
- Papua New Guinea
- Kiribati
- Pacific Passage
- Galapagos Islands
> Odyssey Logs - Search by Topic
> Odyssey Video
> Current Location - Map
> A Day in the Life
> Meet the Crew
site map  
A crew member prepares to hang up shark fins to dry.
Photo : Chris Johnson

March 9, 2004
The Face of Shark Finning
Real Audio Report
  28k   64k

Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey in the Maldives.

In the last Odyssey log, we reported on the trade in shark fins for use in shark fin soup and the practice of shark finning - the removal of a shark's fins onboard a boat and the discarding of the remainder of the shark at sea. The animal is sometimes alive during this process. This wasteful trade causes the death of over one hundred million sharks annually.

The following report is a personal account of Odyssey crewmembers witnessing shark finning.

While researching sperm whales in the Indo-Pacific region, the crew of the Ocean Alliance's Research Vessel Odyssey was invited onboard a tuna long line fishing boat for three days. Our purpose was to attempt to document suspected interactions between fisheries and small cetaceans. Recent claims suggest small whales are taking fish from the hooks of long line sets.

Long lining vessels generally target large tuna, yet the nature of the sets mean non-target species are also taken. These include fish, birds, turtles and often sharks.

The shark is still alive as it is pulled up on deck.

Watch video of the shark being finned and then thrown back in the sea -
Real Video
  56k   200k
Photo : Chris Johnson

We ran the length of the line every afternoon, using our acoustic array to listen for the echolocation clicks of toothed whales. Some of the crew boarded the fishing boat to film, photograph and collect data on the catch. We looked for fish heads as an indication of predation. By collecting fish heads, scientists can analyze the bite marks and determine what species of cetacean or fish is taking the tuna from the hooks.

Over the course of our time onboard, we did not document any cetacean,fisheries interactions.

We boarded the vessel early one morning to watch the men bait the 800 hooks and set the three-mile line. We noticed one fisherman in the corner away from the rest of the men, hanging up 8 shark fins to dry on a line.

Later, we asked the Captain where the fins came from. We were somewhat surprised by his candid response. The Captain told us that he 'lets' the boys fin sharks for extra money. For every ton of tuna caught he and his crew earned $US30 to be split between 11 of them. However, they can make the same amount of money for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of shark fins sold illegally in port.

Captain of long line vessel-

    "Yeah, yeah...the boys pinch them up, [shark fins], to do their 'black marketing'. The [tuna long line] company wants the fins, but the boys pick them up to do their side money and sell them"

    Genevieve Johnson - on the ship:
    "and they are for shark fin soup..."
The fins are sliced off the shark. The crew make more money from selling shark fins illegally than they do from targeting tuna.
Photo : Chris Johnson
    "Yeah, yeah... They say it is very nice to eat... Oh, there are many people buying these shark fins, a lot of people buy [them]. They do their own buying and maybe they sell them to overseas markets. They regard that some sharks fins are not really good and the others have more [better], so they grade them - so they pay accordingly... Yeah, he [the longline owner] wanted us to catch the sharks and give him the fins, but the boys pinched them to the other side. So everytime I say [to the owner], 'shark came, too dangerous to pull, so I cut the line'... Morals have to be boosted here. The boys are really working hard so that if you don't do good to them [ they say] - 'what's the use, I have not been paid'. Well that's one of those things that degrade the boys from performing their duties properly, so they start pinching [shark fins] from the side."

Genevieve Johnson:

On our last evening collecting data, while watching one of the final hooks of the set being brought aboard - all activity came to an abrupt halt. Odyssey photographer Chris Johnson describes the event.

Chris Johnson - RV Odyssey Photographer:

    "I heard the nervous excitement in the voices of the crew as they yelled "shark, shark" to each other. First confused by it all, I realized that something out of the ordinary was happening. I had my camera in hand, grabbed some extra film and went over to the fisherman pulling up the line. Then, there it was, a 3-meter bronze whaler shark hanging from the line - still alive.

    I tried to appear calm and casual in front of the fisherman we spent the last few nights with. This was a shark, the king of the sea, hanging from a nylon fishing line and what was even worse; I knew what was going to happen to it. I knew it was going to be finned.

    The fins of the shark are displayed to the rest of the crew by one of the fishermen.
    Photo : Chris Johnson
    When the shark's head first came over the side of the boat, the eye was lit up by the spotlights on the deck. With little life left, it appeared wide-eyed, almost shocked by the assault of its new surroundings. Then, the white nictitating membrane rolled back over the eye as the fisherman dragged the shark further up onto the main deck. A large gaff hook pierced its lower jaw.

    All I could do was to raise my camera, and capture these surreal moments through my lense. Every picture I took, my flash burst over the scene, a stunning bright light almost freezing the events unfolding before me; my heart pounded heavier and heavier with each frame taken. I couldn't understand why they continued to fin this shark in my presence - my only thought was that they were so poor, that had nothing lose and only money to gain.

    One fisherman took a knife and slit the underside open killing the shark before finning it. The pectoral fins were sliced off first, then the dorsal and finally the lower lobe of the tail. With every picture I took, I silently told myself - don't mess this up Chris - people have to know about this.

    Then there was a halfhearted attempt made at removing the jaws, but this was finally abandoned and the carcass was thrown over the side of the boat. What remained of this magnificent predator spiraled into the sea to its undignified end.

    The shock of witnessing this, especially seeing the eyes of the shark still alive, only a few feet away from my camera- was not only heartbreaking and horrific, but an image that I will never forget..."

Genevieve Johnson-

Once the valuable fins were removed, the carcass is thrown overboard.
Photo : Chris Johnson

Shark finning occurs largely out of sight of land and therefore out of the minds of most of us. Our intention is to disseminate these images as widely as possible by publishing them on our website and sharing them with other international conservation groups. Change can only begin when we are exposed to the truth of this tragedy.

Shark finning footage is difficult to obtain, and when captured, suppliers and consumers within the industry try their best to discredit the imagery as false or staged. In this instance, the footage captured by Chris was entirely opportunistic and unplanned. The focus of Odyssey scientists and crew onboard the longline vessel was directed toward cetacean research.

Shark finning occurs for one reason only - demand. Reducing the demand for shark fins is needed in countries where it is greatest. Coordinated international effort is required to raise awareness about the threats to sharks, to discourage consumption of shark products and to promote alternatives to shark fin soup.


Log written by Genevieve Johnson.

> Home > Voice from the Sea > What is the Voyage? > Track the Voyage > Interactive Ocean > Class from the Sea > Patrick Stewart > Help with Plugins? > Site Map