This week, Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group and Virgin Unite, joined WildAid to swim with 300 whale sharks off the coast of Cancun to demonstrate that the economic benefits of shark tourism can drastically outweigh the value derived from killing a shark for its fins — the lifetime economic value of a single whale shark can exceed US$2 million, compared to a few hundred dollars to kill the same shark for its fins.
Sir Richard and his family, who are in Mexico to celebrate Virgin Atlantic’s new direct service from London Gatwick to Cancun, took a detour to swim with these gentle giants and raise awareness of shark conservation. It is estimated that whale shark tourism is worth over US$47 million worldwide per year.
“Sharks play an incredibly vital role in our lives both environmentally and economically,” said Sir Richard. “They are at the top of the food chain and balance the ocean’s now fragile ecosystem, and the conservation tourism numbers show that they are more useful to coastal communities alive than dead. It goes without saying that we must do everything we can to preserve these highly-threatened, magnificent creatures.”
Sir Richard has been working with WildAid in support of sharks for the past year. In September 2011, Sir Richard joined WildAid Ambassador Yao Ming in Shanghai to call for a ban on shark fin soup in China, and in March 2012, he joined WildAid Board Member Bo Derek in Toronto to call for increased legislation to end the shark fin trade.
Fins from up to 73 million sharks are used every year to make shark fin soup and related food products. Shark finning is a cruel and wasteful practice – captured at sea and hauled on deck, the sharks are often still alive while their fins are sliced off. Because shark meat is not considered as valuable as the fins, the maimed animals are tossed overboard to drown or bleed to death. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that 1/3 of the world’s pelagic shark species are threatened with extinction, with certain species experiencing declines over 90%.
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WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect wildlife from illegal trade and other imminent threats. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $308 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too.
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