Sharks are often feared in many people’s imaginations as vicious, bloodthirsty predators. However, the truth is that sharks have far greater reason to be afraid of humans than we are of them.

Overfishing, for example, is a serious threat to sharks’ survival, thanks to a phenomenon known in the commercial fishing trade as “bycatch.” Commercial trawlers frequently catch and kill large numbers of sharks and other untargeted marine animals – the bycatch in question – while searching for target species such as cod or tuna. Oceanic conservation group Sea Shepherd has estimated that each year, “50,000,000 sharks are caught unintentionally as bycatch by commercial tuna and swordfish fisheries using longlines, nets, purse seine, and gillnets.”

Another enormous threat to the continued survival of sharks is the existence of the cruel shark fin trade. 73 million sharks are caught every year to have their fins brutally chopped off, usually before being tossed back into the ocean to die an excruciatingly painful death. The impact that this practice has had on the world’s shark population is truly staggering. More than two hundred shark species are now listed as endangered by the International Shark Foundation, while some species have seen their numbers decline by as much as 98 percent.

Sharks play a vital role in regulating the health of our climate by consuming herbivorous fish who would otherwise eat a large amount of carbon-storing oceanic vegetation. When just one percent of this carbon-storing vegetation is consumed, 460 million tons of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere. If sharks go extinct, the survival of our planet as we know it could be threatened.

Change is Happening

Luckily, there are signs that the shark fin trade may be on the way out. Shark fin soup has traditionally been seen as a highly sought-after delicacy in Asia, but a number of recent social awareness campaigns in China have drawn attention to the horrendous toll that this has taken on the world’s shark population. As a result, public perception is shifting. In 2014, it was reported that shark fin sales in the markets of Guangzhou – the center of China’s shark fin trade – had plummeted by 82 percent. UPS,