Back in 2006, up to 75% of Chinese citizens didn’t even know what exactly shark fin soup was. They were unaware that “fish-wing soup”, as they call it, even came from sharks. It was such a popular dish in China that an average of 100 million sharks a year were being killed for their fins.
After much publicity about the matter, especially from famous Chinese basketball player Yao Ming partnering with the anti-wildlife trade organization WildAid in 2011, more and more people became aware of what the soup really was, and what it was doing to the marine life. By 2013 the public perception and acceptance of “fish-wing soup” had drastically changed.
Over the past decade, shark fin consumption in China has fallen by up to 80% – which began to fall around the exact same period of time as Yao Ming’s activism on the issue. The former NBA star has truly helped curb China’s consumption of shark fin soup by becoming the face of a campaign of commercials and documentaries exposing how the “delicacy” has made many shark species endangered.
Back in 2013, an independent iResearch survey found that 82% of respondents said they would stop their consumption of shark fin soup, as a direct result of Ming’s awareness campaigns. They wouldn’t have known better otherwise.
Yao’s collaboration with WildAid was the perfect decision that got the public to really pay attention. Yao brings such a decidedly influential presence to causes, in all forms of publicity, from television to social media, that Forbes named him as China’s most powerful celebrity for 6 years in a row!
Since he did so well at changing people’s perception of shark fin soup, he decided to take on China’s Ivory trade and use his already successful platform to campaign against elephant poaching. Again, the cause resulted in a victory – all trade in ivory-made products are now illegal in China. Although he didn’t do this one alone. There was support from other celebrities such as actress Li Bingbing. Chinese state media Xinhua described the run-up to the ban as “one of the largest ever public awareness campaigns.”
The funny thing is, Yao was a member of the pro basketball team called the Shanghai Sharks (ironically) earlier on in his career. Now thanks to his activism, the lives of millions of sharks have been saved. Even so, Yao isn’t celebrating just yet. He says:
“We all know that there is ‘on paper,’ and under the paper, there’s still a long way to go to save the animals — and then save ourselves.”
If you’d like to help the cause, you can become a Shark Saver. It is a program by WildAid that is dedicated to saving sharks and mantas through building awareness, education, and action. A group of divers, with a shared passion for marine life, founded the program in 2007. Today, the group boasts over 25,000 members from 99 nations – all with the same mission to save the world’s dwindling shark and manta populations. You can be a member too!