U.S. government officials discovered over 1,400 pounds of shark fins estimated to be worth $1 million USD, hidden in boxes in Miami, Florida, according to CNN.
In a news release, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the shark fins were hidden in 18 boxes. It is believed the dried fins arrived from South America and were likely headed to Asia, the AP reported.
Shark fin soup is awell known Asian delicacy, especially in China. To meet the demand, smugglers kill tens of millions of sharks every year, cutting the fin from a live shark, according to conservation groups, as the AP reported.
The practice of shark finning is banned in several countries because it is extremely wasteful and cruel. After the fin is cut off from the live shark, the rest of the shark is discarded. The practice has been a federal crime in the U.S. since 2000, according to the Miami Herald.
"The goal of this seizure is to protect these species while deterring trackers from using US ports as viable routes in the illegal shark fin trade," Christina Meister, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said as the Miami Herald reported.
An international agreement between governments around the world is aimed to protect vulnerable animals and plants. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) protects only12 species of sharks, which are included in Appendix II of CITES, according to CNN.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
"The shipment violated the Lacey Act and included CITES listed species," Gavin Shire, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chief of Public Affairs, told CNN. "We are limited to what we can say about this as it is an ongoing case."
While it is illegal in the U.S. to cut off a fin from a live shark and discard the rest of the animal, it is not illegal to traffic or trade shark fins in the U.S. Another issue is that shark fin imports may not be indicated on the import forms. Shark fins are often classified simply as dried seafood or frozen seafood, or as shark fins from one of the species not on the list of banned items.
"The recent seizure of more than 1,000 pounds of shark fins in Miami from potentially protected species demonstrates why we need a federal shark fin ban," said Ariana Spawn, an ocean advocate at the nonprofit advocacy group Oceana, as CNN reported. She urged the Senate to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (S.877), which would ban the trade of fins nationwide.
According to CREMA, the Rescue Center for Endangered Marine Species, since President Alvarado of Costa Rica took office in May 8, 2018, shark fin exporters have continued to purchase hammerhead shark fins from domestic fishers and stockpile them in Puntarenas with hopes of exporting the fins in the future.
So while many people around the world assume a country like Costa Rica supports a ban on such an inhumane practice as shark-fining, the truth is it is allowed to continue. What is not allowed is the export of Hammerhead shark fins.
Hammerhead shark fin exports were banned on March 1, 2015 by the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) of the Ministry of Environment (MINAE). This ban remains in effect until the CITES Scientific Council (an 8 to 16 member body established by the Wildlife Conservation Law and under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment) approves the resumption of exports at some future date, under criteria of biological sustainability. Fortunately the Scientific Council has since issued two biological opinions (August 2015 and again in February 2017) recommending that the export ban stay in effect, as the survival of the species is dependent on increasing the numbers of this species, not reducing them.
The current size of the stockpile in Puntarenas is unknown. From May 1 to December 31 of 2015, it is known with certainty that exporters managed to amass over 10 tons of hammerhead fins (15,000 hammerhead sharks are needed to amass a 10 ton stockpile).
According to CREMA, on August 2017, frustrated with the advice of the scientists disallowing hammerhead shark fin exports and urged by the shark fin industry, the former government of Luis Guillermo Solis stripped the MINAE of its jurisdiction over sharks, by listing them under INCOPESCA´s Commercial Species List (AJDIP 290-2017). As a result, the conservation and management of sharks was effectively made the sole responsibility of INCOPESCA, beyond the reach of the Wildlife Conservation Law and the jurisdiction of MINAE. According toagreements reached by the fishing sector and the Executive in August 29, 2018, last September 22 was assigned as the deadline for INCOPESCA to issue their own biological opinion regarding the convenience or not of resuming hammerhead shark fin exports.
“Sadly, hammerhead shark conservation has taken numerous steps backwards since Costa Rica boldly led the process to list them under Appendix II of CITES just 5 years ago,” regretted Isabel Naranjo of the Costa Rican Endangered Marine Species Rescue Center CREMA. “As of yet, no official actions have been taken to improve the conservation status of this Endangered Species,” said Naranjo.
President Carlos Alvarado inherited this issue from the previous administration, and now he must decide. Will his government allow the export of hammerhead shark fins obtained during an export ban?
Fortunately, President Alvarado has a valuable tool to change the situation for hammerhead sharks once and for all in Costa Rica. Last May 18, just two weeks into his Presidency, the Contentious Administrative and Civil Appeals Court (Carpeta N° 17-8322-1027-CA) ordered the removal of hammerhead sharks from INCOPESCA’ Commercial Species List.
“This ruling paves the way to return shark management and conservation responsibility to the Ministry of Environment where the Wildlife Conservation Law must be implemented to its full extent to save endangered hammerhead sharks,” said an optimistic Randall Arauz, representative in Costa Rica of the Colorado based Fins Attached Marine Research and Conservation. “Conserving the population of hammerhead sharks in Costa Rica will take nothing short of this action,” he warned.
While this is good news for those who support the ban on shark fining exports, it is not discouraging those that stockpile fins in the hopes of exporting them in the future.
CREMA calls on the general public to keep supporting their petition to President Alvarado for Costa Rica to NOT export that hammerhead shark fin stockpile, and for the protection and management of sharks to occur under the tutelage of MINAE and the implementation of the Wildlife Conservation Law to its full extent.
Humpback Whales are regular visitors to our part of the world.
Humpback whales are well known for their long "pectoral" fins, which can be up to 15 feet (4.6 m) in length. Their scientific name, Megaptera novaeangliae, means "big-winged New Englander" as the New England population was the one best known to Europeans. These long fins give them increased maneuverability; they can be used to slow down or even go backwards.
Similar to all baleen whales, adult females are larger than adult males, reaching lengths of up to 60 feet (18 m). Their body coloration is primarily dark grey, but individuals have a variable amount of white on their pectoral fins and belly. This variation is so distinctive that the pigmentation pattern on the undersides of their "flukes" is used to identify individual whales, similar to a human fingerprint.
In the summer, humpbacks are found in high latitude feeding grounds, such as the Gulf of Maine in the Atlantic and Gulf of Alaska in the Pacific. In the winter, they migrate to calving grounds in subtropical or tropical waters, such as the Dominican Republic in the Atlantic and the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific. The Arabian Sea humpback does not migrate, remaining in tropical waters all year.
Humpback whales travel great distances during their seasonal migration, the farthest migration of any mammal. The longest recorded migration was 11,706 miles (18,840 km), with a trek from American Samoa to the Antarctic Peninsula. One of the more closely studied routes is between Alaska and Hawaii, where humpbacks have been observed making the 3,000 mile (4,830 km) trip in as few as 36 days.
During the summer months, humpbacks spend the majority of their time feeding and building up fat stores (blubber) that they will live off of during the winter. Humpbacks filter feed on tiny crustaceans (mostly krill), plankton, and small fish and can consume up to 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg) of food per day. Several hunting methods involve using air bubbles to herd, corral, or disorient fish. One highly complex variant, called "bubble netting," is unique to humpbacks. This technique is often performed in groups with defined roles for distracting, scaring, and herding before whales lunge at prey corralled near the surface.
In their wintering grounds, humpback whales congregate and engage in mating activities. Humpbacks are generally "polygynous" with males exhibiting competitive behavior on wintering grounds. Aggressive and antagonistic behaviors include chasing, vocal and bubble displays, horizontal tail thrashing, and rear body thrashing. Males within these groups also make physical contact, striking or surfacing on top of one another. These bouts can cause injuries ranging from bloody scrapes to, in one recorded instance, death. Also on wintering grounds, males sing complex songs that can last up to 20 minutes and be heard 20 miles (30 km) away. A male may sing for hours, repeating the song several times. All males in a population sing the same song, but that song continually evolves over time. Humpback whale singing has been studied for decades, but scientists still understand very little about its function.
Gestation lasts for about 11 months. Newborns are 13-16 feet (4-5 m) long and grow quickly from the highly nutritious milk of their mothers. Weaning occurs between 6-10 months after birth. Mothers are protective and affectionate towards their calves, swimming close and frequently touching them with their flippers. Males do not provide parental support for calves. Breeding usually occurs once every two years, but sometimes occurs twice in a three year span.
During migration, humpbacks stay near the surface of the ocean.
While feeding and calving, humpbacks prefer shallow waters. During calving, humpbacks are usually found in the warmest waters available at that latitude. Calving grounds are commonly near offshore reef systems, islands, or continental shores.
Humpback feeding grounds are in cold, productive coastal waters.
Humpback whales live in all major oceans from the equator to sub-polar latitudes.
In the North Pacific, there are at least three separate populations, and
California/Oregon/Washington stock that winters in coastal Central America and Mexico and migrates to areas ranging from the coast of California to southern British Columbia in summer/fall;
Central North Pacific stock that winters in the Hawaiian Islands and migrates to northern British Columbia/ Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound west to Kodiak; and
Western North Pacific stock that winters near Japan and probably migrates to waters west of the Kodiak Archipelago (the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands ) in summer/fall. There is some mixing between these populations, though they are still considered distinct stocks.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has designated seven major breeding stocks linked to seven major feeding areas. In Costa Rica, there is overlap with Northern Hemisphere humpbacks geographically, but they are not there at the same time. All Southern Hemisphere humpbacks share feeding grounds in the Antarctic south of 40°S and between 120°E and 110°W.
Humpbacks can become entangled in fishing gear, either swimming off with the gear or becoming anchored. We have observed incidental "take" of humpback whales in the California/ Oregon swordfish and thresher shark drift gillnet fishery. Potential entanglement from gear from several fisheries can occur on their long migration from Hawaii to Alaska. Humpbacks in Hawaii have been observed entangled in longline gear, crab pots, and other non-fishery-related lines.
Inadvertent ship strikes can injure or kill humpbacks. We have verified mortality related to ship strikes in the Gulf of Maine and in southeastern Alaska. Ship strikes have also been reported in Hawaii.
Whale watching vessels may stress or even strike whales. The Gulf of Maine stock is the focus of whale watching in New England from late spring to early fall, particularly within the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The central North Pacific stock is the focus of a whale-watching industry on their wintering grounds in the Hawaiian Islands. The feeding aggregation in southeast Alaska is also the focus of a developing whale-watching industry that may impact whales in localized areas.
Shipping channels, fisheries, and aquaculture may occupy or destroy humpback whale aggregation areas. Recreational use of marine areas, including resort development and increased boat traffic, may displace whales that would normally use that area. In Hawaii, acoustic impacts from vessel operation, oceanographic research using active sonar, and military operations are also of increasing concern.
Japan has issued scientific permits in the Antarctic and in the western North Pacific in recent years. In 2009, the full JARPA II program commenced. Annual sample sizes for the full-scale research (lethal sampling) are set at 50 humpback whales. According the the IWC, Japan has refrained from taking humpback whales.
In 1946, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling regulated commercial whaling of humpback whales.
In 1966, the International Whaling Commission prohibited commercial whaling of humpbacks.
In June 1970, humpback whales were designated as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Conservation Act (ESCA). In 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) replaced the ESCA, and continued to list humpback whales as endangered.