From Jaws to The Meg, sharks have long been portrayed in popular culture as vicious killers, and the urban myths about them often keep young children up hours past their bedtime.
But not only are these creatures relatively harmless to humans, they are under serious threat from human activity. In particular, the shark fin trade – which is big business in Hong Kong – has caused many shark species to suffer.
To raise awareness about shark fin consumption, students at West Island School organised their first-ever Shark Week earlier this year. The six Year 12 students behind the initiative, Eunice Wan, Nitish Aswani, Lachlan Richey Soughan, Anthem Sun, Jade Bruins, and Ilana Golin, were determined to change their teachers’ and classmates’ perception of these apex predators, and raise awareness about the threats they face as a species.
“We wanted to humanise sharks and let people know they aren’t always as scary as they appear to be in films,” said Ilana. “But instead of just having individual speakers to come in and talk about sharks, we thought it’d be more impactful if we had a full week dedicated to these animals,” she added.
The students organised a variety of activities for 40 of their classmates, including a bake sale, dunking teachers in water, and a protest on the school grounds during lunchtime. They raised more than HK$11,000 for the Hong Kong Shark Foundation, a local charity dedicated to protecting shark species and ending the local shark fin trade.
“We managed to convince some students to run up and down the hallways while dressed in shark costumes, to protest against shark fin consumption,” said Ilana. The students hope to spread awareness beyond the classroom, and educate the public about the repercussions of eating shark fin soup, a traditional delicacy that often appears on dinner tables during special occasions.
“Most kids and their parents in our school are aware of this, so it’s important to reach out to locals,” said Nitish. “Older generations aren’t always as open-minded as younger ones, so it’s harder for them to abandon this tradition.”
According to wildlife charity WWF Hong Kong, as many as 73 million sharks are killed each year, and the shark fin trade is one of the driving forces behind this. Hong Kong is generally considered the world’s largest market for shark fins.
Although an official statement from Hong Kong government said the city is “committed to the protection of endangered species”, shark fins can still be found in various dried seafood markets and restaurants all over the city. “The first step is to stop big chains such as Maxim’s from serving shark fin soup at their restaurants,” said Eunice.
“Although shark conservation is very topical, as it’s a big problem here in Hong Kong, the wider message is to protect all animals, not just sharks,” said Lachlan.