Isabel Ortiz-Marquez rattles off facts about shark migratory patterns, mating habits and diet like a biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
But it is the rate at which sharks are being butchered for their fins — three every second, or 100 million a year — that really gets the Jordan Middle School student fired up.
“Some scientists say that they can be gone in 10 years — completely gone,” said Isabel, 11.
Now, the sixth-grader and two dozen classmates are taking their message to the top, throwing their weight behind pending state legislation that would make it illegal to possess, sell, trade or distribute shark fins. On Wednesday, they visited Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) to press him for his support for the bill, AB 376.
The students are planning to visit state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and hope to launch a shark club dedicated to the species’ protection.
Shark finning, the practice of fishing sharks and cutting off their fins, threatens the ocean’s entire ecosystem, the students said.
“The worst part about shark finning is they throw the live shark back in the ocean, where it either drowns or gets eaten,” said 11-year-old Austin Jew.
The students’ passion for sharks began in the fall when their teacher, Dana Ragle, herself a shark lover, referenced “Jaws” during a lesson on literary terms. Subsequently, Isabel found the documentary “Sharkwater,” which details the shark-finning trade, and shared it with the class.
Inspired in part by students at Eastshore Elementary School in Irvine, who have also taken up the shark-finning cause, Ragle’s students began conducting their own research.
“It kind of happened organically,” Ragle said. “I teach social science, so testing and the standards have become so important. But I try also to convey to them the importance of becoming part of our government and understanding how it works, and being a [good] citizen.”
Sharks are fished for their fins for a variety of reasons, said 12-year-old Geoffrey Bark. Some people believe that shark fins have medicinal or even supernatural powers, he said. A popular dish, shark fin soup, can sell for as much as $100 a bowl.
“The shark fin is tasteless,” Geoffrey said. “They put chicken or something else in to make flavoring. And we are all thinking, ‘Why don’t they just take the shark fin out and just put the chicken in and keep it at the same price?’”