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Chinese Basketball Hero, Yao Ming Acts to Saves the Sharks

Basketball star and China's most popular figure, Yao Ming, today launched a new stage in a hard-hitting campaign to save the world's fast dwindling shark populations. Featuring a new public service announcement (PSA) and major billboard campaign with international conservation group WildAid. Yao timed the launch to take place the day before the first game of Shanghai Sharks basketball team, which he recently assumed control over.

The PSA shows Yao in a restaurant with a giant aquarium being offered shark fin soup. Yao looks into the aquarium and sees real footage of a live tawny nurse shark dumped on an Indonesian reef with its fins removed to supply the soup trade. Yao and his fellow diners promptly push away the soup.

"This footage is definitive proof that sharks are being finned alive for soup," said Steve Trent, Director of WildAid, continuing, "The spiraling demand for fin to be consumed for soup, mostly in China, is having a devastating impact on shark populations across the world. Key to halting the conservation crisis now facing sharks is to kill of the demand for shark fin and this is why the action being taken by Yao Ming who has led a host of others to join him is so important. The message that he will no longer eat shark fin has great impact in China."

Fins from up to 70 million sharks a year are used for shark fin soup often with the bodies of the animal dumped overboard dead or alive. Shark poaching is rife in marine protected areas, such as the Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island. In a recent study the world's top shark scientists (IUCN Shark Specialist Group) reported that of 64 species of open ocean sharks and rays 32% are "threatened with extinction," primarily due to overfishing. In addition, 24% were "near threatened," while another 25% could not be assessed due to lack of data. Sharks are highly vulnerable to overfishing due to their late maturity and slow reproduction. Globally shark catches are unregulated or unsustainable. The shark fin trade is unregulated worldwide.

In China, there is a growing groundswell of opposition to shark finning. Yao Ming, has supported WildAid's campaign for over two years, is joined by Chinese sporting and movie icons, as well as leading businessmen. Li Ning, who lit the Olympic torch and Liu Huan, who sang in the Beijing Opening ceremony, along with a number of gold medal Olympians, including Americans Tara Kirk and Amanda Beard, have pledged not to eat shark fin soup and have recorded public service announcements which have reached hundreds of millions of Chinese. The campaign has been featured on China's CCTV networks featuring 20 Olympic gold medalists. Last month, 100 Chinese business leaders also joined the pledge and the Chinese equivalent of eBay, Alibaba stopped allowing sales of shark fin through their site.

The new Yao Ming message and billboards were supported by a grant from Sharksavers and are set for broadcast in China and around the world.

"We must urgently introduce controls and better management of sharks globally, banning trade except where it is can be proven to comes from a properly managed sustainable fishery that prohibits the wasteful and barbaric practice of shark finning," said Trent. "Sharks have been around for nearly 400 million years, but at the current rate of overfishing they could be wiped out in a single human generation."