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?
Sorry, 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.
I 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.