Friday, March 14, 2014

Week in Review: Shark Finning in China, 2014 Pews Fellowship Award & Invertebrate Pain Research

Week in Review
Shark Finning in China, 2014 Pews Fellowship Award & Invertebrae Pain Research

Do lobsters feel pain? Continued research yields new answers

Photo Credit: National Geographic
Most animal lovers become queasy at the thought of tossing a live lobster into a boiling pot of water as a main course for dinner tonight. The idea of the lobster slowly boiling to death while you melt the butter is pretty unappetizing actually, but the decade old question remains – do the lobsters actually feel the pain? Many people would say no, they die instantly and no pain is felt but new studies on crustaceans and other invertebrates may prove otherwise.

Testing an animal’s reaction to pain in uncomfortable, to say the least. How do you know if an animal is in pain? Researchers recently ran tests on crabs, shrimp and squids to determine if they react to pain and how. When acid was brushed on the antennae of a shrimp, the animal immediately began to groom the area but when acid was applied after a local anesthetic, the animal did not react. The results of this experiment would lead most people to believe the animal is experiencing discomfort, but scientists took it a step further. Crabs were placed in a brightly lit tank with two shelters, under which they hid during the time that the lights were lit. While under the shelters, the crabs were given an electric shock to see if they would give up a basic necessity, shelter, due to pain. Eventually, the crabs retreated into the light to avoid the shock. This tells researchers that not only do crustaceans feel pain, but they are capable of juggling the need of a basic necessity over the need to avoid pain and over time, they choose to avoid pain.

 We can now say that some invertebrates feel pain, but do they feel it differently than humans? That may be the case with squid. Researchers found that squid are more likely to squirt ink and move away when a wound is touched than when a non-wounded area is touched. This reaction appears to be involuntary, similar to when a human is pricked by a sharp object; they immediately retreat without thinking. Shortly after an injury, a squid’s sense receptors become active across the entire body leading scientists to think that squids may feel pain all over when injured, as opposed to one central area like with humans.  

 Unfortunately, when certain marine species become protected from barbaric fishing practices, invertebrates seem to be forgotten. Crab fisherman often rip the claws off crabs and throw the live body back into the ocean to die, very similar to shark finning. Now that we know these creatures do feel pain, our society may need to take that into account when rallying to protect other ocean species from harmful fishing methods.

Sharp Decline of Shark Processing Plant in Eastern China

China is one of the final countries to continue with the killing of sharks in order to supply the country with the highly desired shark fin soup. A bowl of shark fin soup may cost the consumer upwards of $65 USD, creating a very lucrative market for Chinese fisherman who simply cut the needed fins from the shark’s body and throw the still thrashing carcass back into the sea to die. China’s demand for shark fin soup exploded in the early 80’s and over 30 years later, we may finally be seeing a decline.

 A large shark processing plant in Puqi, China, which is main hub for the processing of sharks in Eastern China, has now become defunct due to the decreasing demand for shark fins. Puqi has been known to process over 600 sharks per year, including threatened species such as the Great White. However Puqi processed more than just shark fins at the plant, entire shark bodies were harvested to be used in medication, gels and other foods. At its climax, Puqi supplied almost 90% of the shark sold in China and reaped over 400 million yuan in revenues.

In 2013, international animal welfare groups shined a white hot spotlight on the shark industry in Puqi. A full investigation lead to the discovery of inhumane killings and the overfishing of protected species. In addition, organizations urged the community to discontinue purchasing shark bi-products and avoid eating shark-laced foods. These actions lead the shark demand in Puqi to plummet, leaving only 4 factories to date.  The decline in the shark finning business in China has been seen as a victory by animal rights groups everywhere. While although we may have won the battle in China, we are still fighting a war with other irresponsible countries still practicing shark finning.

 Demian Chapman is awarded the 2014 Fellowship in Marine Conservation

 Shark Scientist Demian Chapman is awarded the 2014 Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation, a prestigious fellows program in which the winner is given $150,000 to use in a 3 year conservation project. Chapman holds a Ph.D in Marine Biology and is currently working as a research scientist with Stony Brook’s University of Marine and Atmospheric science. Chapman also serves as the head of the University’s Shark Research program and is a fellow at the Blue Ocean Institute. Chapman plans to use his fellowship to assist in the preservations of sharks listed on the CITES protection species list.

“Many shark species, including those listed on CITES, simply can’t keep up with the current rate of exploitation and demand,” explains Chapman. Chapman’s project would research different areas to see where more advocacy is needed for those sharks protected by CITES. CITES has recently added 5 new sharks to the protected list, including the Porbeagle, Oceanic Whitetip and three types of Hammerhead sharks, while currently protecting over 30,000 other species of animals.

 Chapman recognizes that shark finning still occurs in exorbitant amounts, even on the CITES protected species. He explains that the fins of the Porbeagle, Oceanic Whitetip and Hammerheads are easily identifiable which helps trade agencies enforce penalties for violators. Chapman’s project plans to investigate the state of the shark fin trade and better grasp sustainability of these species while also assisting in discovering areas that need more penalties


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