Sustainability Message in Vegas?

The den of iniquity otherwise known asLas Vegas might seem an odd place for lessons on sustainability. Yet there, in the middle of all things Vegas, sits the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, and no, it has nothing to do with card sharks.

This impressive facility is North America’s only predator-based aquarium, which means that although sharks are the main event, you’ll also see crocodiles and Komodo Dragons, piranhas and pythons, lionfish and stingrays. Over all, it’s got a fairly small footprint compared to other aquariums, “only” 95,000 square feet, but it still manages to sport over 2000 animals and 100 different species of sharks.

From the get go, messages about sustainability are everywhere. The visitor “passport” has tear-out guides for buying both sushi and seafood, signs at several points encourage and explain the need for paying attention to fisheries, and – a big AND– this place is big on hosting school groups and educating them about our oceans.

 The Shark Reef Aquarium also has a major wow factor going on with their reef tunnel. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like – a glass tunnel going right through the tank showcasing the reef exhibit. There are sharks swimming to the left of you, sharks to the right of you, sharks above you. Okay, usually not all at once, and there are several other species roaming about as well, but you get the point.

For anyone that knows me, you will be quite amazed that I managed to keep my heart rate below 200 bpm while in the tunnel. Yes, I have a lifelong shark phobia, and before you get started … it predates Jaws by many years; you will not be able to talk me out of it; and no, I really do not like those new, freakish, helium-filled, radio-powered shark balloons

However, although I have an utter and abject fear of sharks, I also have an immense amount of respect and admiration for them. It did become mesmerizing to watch these stunning creatures glide around me. We were both in our own elements of air and water, and although just yards apart, we are worlds apart in terms of the sheer experience of existence.

The earliest sharks appeared about 420 million years ago. Our first ancestors only date back about 2.5 million years, give or take a fossil dating. Yet, as usual, it’s our activities that are threatening sharks and countless other species on the planet.

Having said that, yes, I am all for the ban on shark finning for shark fin soup. I am the first person to defend ethnic food and cultures, but not when it comes to such wanton destruction of life. Yes, I understand the soup is a centuries-old delicacy that can bring over $50 per bowl in China. However, to get the fins, the sharks are caught, the fins are lopped off, and the maimed sharks are thrown back into the water to die. How good can that soup really taste? In fact, it’s not even the fins that give it taste – the fins just provide cartilaginous texture.

Recently, a massive shark slaughter was discovered off the coast of Columbia– in a wildlife sanctuary! It’s certainly not an isolated incident, just among the most recent. Officials reported “that as many as 2,000 sharks have been killed in a single incident for their fins. … Shark species found included hammerhead, Galapagos, and silky sharks.”

This slaughter isn’t happening in a vacuum. It’s happening because of the law of supply and demand. If the cachet for shark fin soup goes away, sharks won’t be slaughtered for their fins. By the same token, if you find ways to use the whole shark and not litter the bottom of the sea with their carcasses, then by all means, enjoy your shark fin soup.

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