13th 2012
Let’s Talk About Sharks

Posted under misc

I admit it, I have not necessarily always been a big shark fan. That had largely been a result of lack of information and awareness. My personal experiences with sharks are mostly limited to things like seeing a basking shark on a whale watch some years ago, and the new touch tank at the New England Aquarium (they feel like very very fine and slightly slimy sand paper). Turns out, sharks are pretty awesome. They are the apex predators of our oceans, keeping ecosystems in check. Yeah, they scare people (thanks, Jaws!) but toasters kill more people than sharks. That’s right – toasters.

And sharks are facing incredible peril in the oceans right now. The link above talks about how a handful of people are killed by sharks in an average year. Conversely, humans and human activity take the lives of over 70 MILLION sharks each year.

The primary cause is the deplorable act of shark finning, where live sharks are pulled aboard a boat, their fins are cut off, and their still living bodies are dumped back in the ocean where they are sentenced to die either by predators or drowning. Without their fins they cannot swim, and because they cannot swim, their gills are unable to extract oxygen from the water. This is about as undignified a death as any animal could suffer. And for what are their fins used? Soup. Time Magazine had an article called Extinction in a Bowl of Shark Fin Soup which talks about the high price to the consumer (at least $100 per bowl) and ultimately to all of us as sharks are killed and ocean ecosystems worldwide are critically altered as a result.

Sharks have been on my radar a little more than usual lately because of a story with a now infamous photo of Rosie O’Donnell and her kids with a very large, very dead hammerhead shark, with the humans all looking excitedly pleased as punch about their great kill. The crap hit the fan and the twitterverse became very active with criticism and attempts to raise awareness with Rosie about this. The story has even hit the Huffington Post. I had a few exchanges with her, myself, on Twitter. She defends it by saying her family fishes (which is not the problem) and that you can’t control what you catch. To a degree, that’s true, but not always entirely accurate. Just Google ‘shark fishing’ to find all sorts of companies and charters and tours that tout the landing of “monster” sharks (there’s that image problem again). Those would not be successful businesses if they did not how to specifically target sharks in their fishing. And given that one of Rosie’s good friends and fishing buddies is called Mark the Shark (visitor beware: many glorified and gory photos of large, dead sharks), who makes a business of catching sharks, it’s not all as random as she’d have us all think. She’s also been arguing that the species was not, on that day, listed as endangered. Since those listings don’t happen in real time but only after serious population decline and sometimes much political squabbling has occurred, a matter of days is no marker at all of the health of the species before and after listing. Those sharks were already deeply in trouble by the time they were listed. Endangered populations are not always a given to be listed as such. Just look at the plight of the bluefin tuna. Already virtually commercially extinct, because it is so strongly desired in Japan (where a recent bluefin sold for $736,000 – for just ONE fish!), financial interests are overriding environmental interest. It’s a good thing that sharks are being added to the list, and we just have to hope it is not too late.

She has also defended it by talking about how much of a positive impact the ocean has on her son, Blake. He has auditory processing disorder, and the ocean helps him to come alive, according to his justifiably proud mom. I think it’s fabulous that they have been able to find something which works like that for him. But does it need to come at the expense of sharks?

This was not something I had planned to blog about ever, really, since I am primarily about whales. And then Rosie asked on Twitter – enough with the sharks, can we move on?

group of hammerhead sharksSorry, no, not in the larger scheme of things. Directly, I think I’ve said what I can to her, always trying to be respectful even when blunt, but her mind is apparently made up, and belaboring the issue if she is not willing to listen will not get anyone anywhere. But for every shark that is killed and pulled from the ocean, including the Great Hammerhead with which she has been pictured, it’s a big loss to the ocean. Rosie talks often about how much she loves the ocean; she and her family live on the coast and are on the water as much as they can be. She is a self-professed conservationist. To me, a conservationist cannot also take such delight in killing one of the most important animals in the oceans she loves. She has astutely asked about fishing companies which take massive numbers of sharks from ocean, compared to her small number. And she is right, we need to do more to stop large scale slaughter of sharks, around the globe. And efforts are under way to do just that. Meanwhile, she is a public figure with a high profile, and she could do a lot for increasing understanding and awareness of sharks. At the same time, her argument is a bit of a red herring (forgive the pun). Yes, millions are taken commercially. But rather than that fact’s overshadowing single catch and sport fishing, it makes each shark that is NOT killed all the more valuable. Every single shark counts. In 2006, a world record was set with the capture of a Great Hammerhead shark off of Florida, in a shark fishing competition. She weighed 1,280 pounds, AND she set another record. She was just about to give birth to 55 pups, the largest number ever found in a hammerhead shark. That’s 56 sharks that were removed from the ocean in one swoop. Sharks mature slowly and reproduce slowly. A loss like this has devastating impact on the populations. We can only guess at how many sharks are lost on a commercial fishing scale.

Instead, Rosie opts to brush it all off.

hammerhead sharkI have a lot of respect for Rosie as she has been a powerful figure in many ways, including on LGBT awareness which is another key issue for me. That she seems to think this is no big deal is disappointing. Hopefully, she will continue to learn, and her kids will grow to understand that killing sharks is wrong. With her son and family’s love for the ocean and hopefully growing awareness, I hope they become part of the next generation which understands this issue even better than we do now and works to change the fate of sharks before it is too late. We can love them and appreciate them without glorying in killing them, whether in single or massive numbers. If she visibly promoted catch and release only, that would be fantastic. It would be a really easy way for her to really show that she does, in fact, get it.

All images used in this post are free images found at freestockphotos.biz.


21 Responses to “Let’s Talk About Sharks”

  1. Cynthia on 13 Jan 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    Excellent blog post Amy!

  2. whalegeek on 13 Jan 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    Thanks, I appreciate it!

  3. JameyDrew on 13 Jan 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    Thank you!

  4. Tim on 13 Jan 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    Excellent article!!!

  5. whalegeek on 13 Jan 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Thanks for reading and retweeting!

  6. whalegeek on 13 Jan 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Thanks! Much appreciated :-)

  7. Tanya on 15 Jan 2012 at 5:18 am #

    Wow, I had no idea! I have always just brushed them off as predators and we’re better off without them (this from a fear instilled at a trip to Universal Studios when I was about 4, and made to stand next to the pretend Jaws at the end of the trolly tour which scared the bee-jesus out of me). thanks for writing such an interesting post!

  8. whalegeek on 15 Jan 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Thanks, Tanya! It’s much easier to glorify sharks as killer monsters and ignore their place in the oceans. Makes for better TV ratings. They’ve been around for millions of years, virtually unchanged, so there has to be some reason for them to be there, right? :-) One example, the loss of a shark population off California could mean an explosion of Humboldt squid would have really bad results for that area. Not all of the data is in, but there’s empirical data to support this. (Will Shark Decline Cause Squid Explosions?) Everything is interconnected, even when some elements scare the crap out of us! :-)

  9. Ashley on 16 Jan 2012 at 3:01 am #

    I sort of feel badly about my fear of sharks (as someone who LOVES the ocean, I must confess that they are the one hang-up I have about the water). But according to shamanic traditions, sharks, like all animals, offer powerful medicine. Below is some info about the shark totem and what it represents. (I love that kind of stuff…)

    Fosters transformation of the spirit, teaches how to swim the currents of a busy life, aids in use of intuition to navigate effectively, aids in attuning to the world of emotions, opens access to the un/subconscious and other-worlds, heightens senses including visions, dreams and related psychic abilities. Shark teaches how to accomplish “impossible” tasks by utilizing discernment and trust.

  10. Moorea on 18 Jan 2012 at 4:18 am #

    Awesome post, Amy. I love sharks and this was very well written with excellent points about why it wasn’t OK for Rosie to be catching a shark (and specifically a hammerhead!). I have multiple times swam with sharks who for the most part are very gentle creatures unless threatened or very hungry. People have no idea the plight of our oceans and you touched on a very important corner of it. I am going to repost on Facebook. I really like this blog! And another thing, coming from a family of fisherpeople- yes, if you have an expert fishing guide you can certainly decide what you are trying to catch, what you can let go before it gets on the boat, etc. Certainly her purpose by being with that guy was to catch a shark. How disappointing and how truly sad that catching a shark is the way she can help her son enjoy the ocean.

  11. katryna on 25 Jan 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    This post was amazing. I learned so much. It does seem entirely disingenuous to say that they couldn’t help what they caught! why not just throw the gorgeous creature back in the ocean. It’s funny how when you agree with someone so deeply on one issue that their disregard for other issues feels more shocking.
    I am also comforted by the idea that there are more killer toasters in the world than killer sharks:-)

  12. whalegeek on 02 Feb 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    Thanks, K! The shark she was pictured with could not be thrown back because it was killed by the intense struggle to reel it in. Sadly, that shark was lost as soon as the struggle began. She apparently has been doing more catch and release which is a better approach. That works with smaller sharks. The bigger they are, the less effective that strategy becomes. Time will tell, over the long haul, what lessons, if any, were learned. Many activists who tried to open a dialogue with her found her to be obstinate and unwilling to own any culpability. Some feel that she brushed everyone off and did not learn a thing. Perhaps it will be her kids who really teach her, as they grow and learn more.

  13. whalegeek on 02 Feb 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    Thanks, Moorea! People also don’t realize that sharks bite because that’s the only way they can find out if something is food. They don’t go around thinking, there’s a person, I’m gonna bite! Hopefully Rosie’s kids will keep expanding their knowledge of the ocean and change some of their habits accordingly. We can’t love something that is not there or healthy anymore, especially since she says they do eat some of what they catch!

  14. whalegeek on 02 Feb 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    Very cool, Ashley, thanks for including those details. There is so much more to love and respect than hate about sharks. But I’d be nervous about being in the water with the bigger ones, too :-)

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