Changing Planet

How Social Media Can Save Sharks

It all started with Alisa Schwartz’s tweet September 5th:, the No. 2 health site in the U.S. with more than 21 million viewers, was offering recipes for several species of shark that are considered threatened or endangered, including the scalloped hammerhead and tiger shark. acknowledged this, but still encouraged eating these overfished species.

Here’s a line from their “How to Cook a Tiger Shark” recipe:

“Due to over-fishing and finning, a fishing practice in which sharks are killed only for their fins, tiger sharks are classified as near endangered.”

When the Upwell team saw Alisa’s tweet, we started a petition urging to remove its shark recipes immediately.  We knew a petition like this could work. Over a year ago, the Food Network removed all of its shark meat recipes from their website following a petition by Jessica Belsky.

Within a week of posting our petition, had taken nearly all of the offending pages down, and (as of this writing), the petition has been signed by 982 supporters.

How we did it:

  • We wrote about the petition in three editions of our email newsletter, The Tide Report. In each Tide Report, we encouraged our readers to sign the petition, and share it with their social networks. We provided them with links to pre-written tweets. We also gave shout outs in the Tide Report to some of the folks who signed the petition, and shared it with their social networks.
  • We let people know about our petition who were already talking on Twitter about the shark recipes, and who had written about the previous Food Network petition.
  • We reached out to and asked for suggestions for how to promote our petition. They encouraged us to send regular updates to the petition’s supporters asking them to continue to share it with their networks (something that can be easily done through the platform).

Why we think it worked:

  • Encouraging the consumption of endangered species is a pretty obvious no no.
  • LIVESTRONG is a brand most people recognize.
  • The Tide Report’s readers are ocean conservation activists, organizations, and communicators. They shared the petition with their communities, who were already passionate about ocean issues.
  • makes it easy for petition suppporters to share the petition with their social networks and via email, after they sign.
  • Although and are separate ( is a licensing partner of the Lance Armstrong Foundation), when someone asked on the Facebook Page that the shark recipes be taken down, responded.

Is this a win? Yes and no.

We’re thrilled that the recipes have been taken down (win!), but we still want (and their parent company, Demand Media) to put in a firm no-sharks policy for the site.

What we’re most excited about is that it took less than 1,000 socially networked ocean conservationists to create this change. We all know the Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”  Here at Upwell, we believe that a small group of thoughtful, committed socially networked citizens can change the world.

What do you think? How have you seen social networking impact ocean conservation?

Rachel is the director of Upwell (@upwell_us), a PR agency with the ocean as its only client.
  • ali

    There are no longer any shark recipes on the website, and the “Cook Shark” category from the screenshot is gone entirely. It looks like they’ve implemented a no sharks policy by eliminating the category entirely. Congratulations to everyone involved!

    This category was a colossally bad decision all around. Conservation concerns aside, why would a health-focused website encourage eating meat that is known to be high in mercury?

  • Amy Lesh

    Social media and education for sharks works on a small scale too. In my community, 2 restaurants have taken shark off their menus after attempts were made to educate them and then brief campaigns on Facebook. A friend in MO was able to get shark taken out of her local grocery store chain through education, social media and a petition. Well done to those who got Livestrong to remove the shark recipes, and I agree, it would be better if they used their voice to tell their readers why. To those with local vendors selling shark, restaurants serving shark, marinas who allow shark landings, you can make a difference as well.

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