A New Friend For Sharks

The Chinese city were looking for in the Geo Quiz stands out. It's among the world's top ten largest cities: more than 23 million people crowd into this global port at the mouth of the Yangtze River.

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Fishing fleets come and go from the East China Sea and beyond, delivering fresh catch to the city's fish markets. That's where for a few hundred dollars, you can buy a pound of shark fins. You'll need them to cook up a traditional Chinese delicacy: Shark fin soup.

Critics say an estimated 70 million sharks are harvested just for their fins — and the demand is growing.

So the international conservation group WildAid, chose this Chinese city to launch its campaign, urging people to pledge on line to stop eating the soup.

And it's enlisted a big name to help out.

Retired Chinese basketball star Yao Ming paid a visit to Shanghai, the answer to our quiz. The 7 ft 6"³ center is lending his voice to a campaign organized by the animal rights group WildAid which is calling on Chinese — and everyone else — to stop showing off their wealth by eating shark fin soup. Mary Kay Magistad reports:

If you're Chinese nouveau riche, there's nothing like a $100 bowl of shark fin soup to impress your friends. Trouble is, ever more Chinese are coming into money, and 70 million sharks are killed each year, largely for their fins.

Retired Chinese basketball star Yao Ming says this has got to change. He's taking part in a public awareness campaign, organized by the animal rights group WildAid, calling on Chinese — and everyone else — to stop showing off their wealth by eating shark fin soup.

Speaking at a press conference today in Shanghai, Yao Ming said sharks have been on this earth longer than human beings, and their survival is important to ours. He said eating shark fin soup is endangering them, and if they die out, the ocean's biodiversity will suffer, and so will we.

Steve Trent, president of WildAid, said that he's a believer in China as a global leader for conservation. "I think this is a great country with untold talents. And to apply those to save the sharks and other endangered wildlife, I believe we will create a world in which our children still have the benefits of these species."

China may be a potential global leader for conservation, but its record so far, on species like tigers, sharks, rhinos and elephants, isn't great. In each case, the animal is killed for a fetishized part — tiger penis, shark fin, rhino horn and elephant tusk. Some of the demand comes from folk belief in its powers — some, because they've become symbols of prestige. The challenge is to change old beliefs and new habits. Yao Ming is raising the conservation cause to new prominence — but making a real difference, fast enough to save already endangered sharks, is no slam-dunk.