The sun was setting as Elsa Brum neared the left wing of the Ocean Beach Pier during her stroll on February 16. There she saw what looked like a baby shark gasping for air as it bled all over the pier.
"It was so wrong," said Brum. "I felt so helpless and sad."
Brum thought about throwing the four-foot shark back into the water but it was cut through the gills.
"It was just really hard watching the animal suffer." She contemplated calling the police but wasn't sure what the laws were. She asked a young man fishing nearby if he had caught the shark. The man pointed toward another fisherman named José.
"José confirmed that the shark was his. I asked him what kind of shark it was and he said it was a 'soup shark.'" Confused by his answer, Brum next asked how he had caught it. José held up his hook and line and explained that he had stabbed the shark to bleed it out.
"I asked how long the shark had been bleeding there and José said for an hour…. He said he was going to use the fins for soup and the rest for fillet and ceviche."
Even though Brum has generations of family from the fishing industry, she said, "Nothing should have to suffer like that, gasping through its own blood to survive. It was a cowardly act against a selfless being and I felt hopeless as I waited for its last breath. I was meditating in my place of peace. It was shocking. I'm about respect for all things — people, animals, and plants. No one should gurgle up their own blood — no one!"
Native San Diegan Victoria Elena Vásquez is always happy to talk about sharks. She even recently discovered a new species called a ninja lanternshark. Vásquez is a graduate student at the Pacific Shark Research Center in Moss Landing, California, and the deputy director of the Ocean Research Foundation.
"This is a soupfin shark, and though morally upsetting, there is nothing illegal going on,” Vásquez said about Brum's photograph. “While shark fins are illegal in the state of California, catching whole sharks is not. There's only a handful of sharks that are illegal to catch, like great white and basking sharks. Therefore, if the person took the whole shark home and made dinner for themselves, it's not illegal. On the bright side, this species is very healthy in the Northeast Pacific."
Vásquez pointed out that while females of this species are common in San Diego, a male is a unique find. She collects data on soupfins and hammerheads and said that the public can help by reporting any they find.
While people are allowed to catch soupfin sharks of any size, Vásquez warns, "In general, sharks tend to have higher concentrations of mercury than other seafood options, so despite the legality, I would caution people about eating shark and ray on a regular basis.
"Soupfin sharks have had a long history of being overfished in California. Even though they have an unfortunate common name, soupfin sharks were mainly targeted in the 1940s for their oily livers, not their fins. Once that fishery ended, soupfin sharks in our area rebounded.
"In our waters [the Northeast Pacific], soupfin sharks are listed as 'Least Concern' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List Assessment. However, being overfished is still an issue for them in other parts of the world, such as the waters off Argentina and Brazil, where they are Critically Endangered."
Joe Stewart used to fish once upon a time. Regarding the shark being bled out, Stewart said, "If you don't bleed them while their hearts are still pumping, waste products in the blood can taint the meat.
"Say what you want about the ethics and humanity of it all, fishing has been a way of life and sustenance for thousands of years. And seafood is directly linked to the evolution of the advanced frontal cortex — that same part of the brain that has some people so sensitive about this in the first place."