Recent years have been unlucky for purveyors of shark fin soup. American states, cities, and the federal government have cracked down on the shark fin trade, and in 2012, China announced it would ban the sale of the ancient, gelatinous delicacy at official government banquets, reducing demand for shark fin across the region.
Nonetheless, the taste for shark fin soup lingers in hearts, minds, and stomachs. China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong have made up 95% of the world’s shark fin imports in recent years, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) estimates that 73 million sharks are gruesomely finned for Asian markets annually. A new ad campaign from the IFAW and design firm Y&R Shanghai brings that statistic to life (or death, rather) in coffins on the streets of Shanghai.
Y&R’s shark coffin project centers on the practice of “finning,” which isn’t as delicate as it sounds. After sharks are caught and mutilated, they’re left to sink, still living but defenseless, to the ocean floor. “After doing some research, I found that shark [finning] only takes 2% of [a] shark’s whole body,” Y&R China’s assistant creative director Handsome Wong said in a written statement. “People see nothing but shark fin, [and] as a result, the shark’s death is unfortunately ignored.”
After attaching fins and QR codes to five-meter-long wooden coffins and placing them in public places around the city, Y&R and IFAW collected 49,000 in-person pledges to stop eating shark fin soup, and 700,000 more signatures online. They’re certainly capitalizing on a regional trend: Shark fin imports into Hong Kong, which in 2012 made up 50% of the trade, have plummeted by nearly a third after airlines and ships refused to transport them.
“More and more Chinese resist shark fin, and shark fin consumption has reduced a lot in weddings and festivals,” Wong said. But if Chinese tastes can shift away from the centuries-old tradition of eating shark fin, what about America’s destructive obsession with beef? Cow coffins alone won’t disrupt industrialized meat production in the United States, but maybe similar displays can help popularize the ongoing reduced meat-eating trend.