Now, according to fishing records, over 90% of sharks have been depleted. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, over a third of all large sharks have been wiped out, or are facing extinction, or are vulnerable to extinction.
SO, WHY SUCH A MASS SLAUGHTER OF SUCH AN IMPORTANT AND KEYSTONE SPECIES?
Well, some of it is due to silly things like souvenirs and pharmaceuticals. Some of it is due to men and their inferiority complexes …I’m guessing. 80% of long-lining is bycatch, and most of it is sharks. Culling, which is probably this least intelligent reaction a country can have to an adverse shark-human interaction; basically, like shooting yourself in the foot, from a behavioral standpoint, also a waste and indiscriminate killer.
But the number one killer of sharks, globally: a bowl of soup. Yes, we are trading the health and productivity of our oceans-reliant environment and economies for a bowl of soup.
What’s worse, it’s not even nutritious; it’s actually toxic. It’s merely for the Chinese culture belief that when they serve that soup, it means that they’re prestigious or important.
But what is classy about catching a shark, hacking off its fins, oftentimes while it’s still alive, wasting 95% of the animal just to make yourself feel better about your social status.
Consider: sharks have been evolving for over 400 million years; humans, 200,000, and their culturals, far less. We can live without culture; we cannot live without our oceans, and our oceans cannot live without their immune systems.
Like rhinos killed just for their horns, and elephants killed just for their tusks, sharks are being killed, slaughtered, globally, just for their fins.
Now, I love traveling the world and experiencing the diversity of cultures, but there has to be a point when we re-evaluate the relationship that we have with sharks and animals, and look at how our cultures can adapt and evolve honorably.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says that when you do not change your direction, you may end up where you are heading.
So what if we were to adopt this idea and change the way that we interact with sharks? What would that look like?
Well, the great news is we already have concrete examples, places like Palau, Bahamas, areas like Cabo Pulmo, and Palmyra. And in those areas, reef and fish stocks are thriving. And ecotourism is bringing in over US $314 million to local economies, directly employing over 10,000 jobs.
This study done by the University of British Columbia and Dr Michele Barnes is actually showing that that number will increase, more than double, in less than 20 years, to $780 million, far outweighing the global fin trade.
So put at the most basic terms, even on just the monetary level, which is usually what politicians care about, a live shark is worth more than a dead shark. And what’s great is, these shark ecotourism programs, they can support research. So I was working out with Dr Mauricio Hoyos, we were tagging, we were taking biopsies, and I was wondering: Is any of this conservation-based research going to make a difference before these guys are just wiped out off the planet?
And then one day, 20 meters underwater, I was doing a population count surrounded by these beautiful sharks, I was realizing by the time I gather, process and publish my studies, another 3 million to 6 million sharks will be killed.
So what’s the point of studying something that’s being eradicated the rate the sharks are and not do anything about it. So I opened my research to the public. I developed a program, where people could come to learn about sharks from a scientific perspective. And I collaborated with @juansharks, who is a well-known shark and marine photographer and shark specialist.
And we developed this program that’s research – and conservation-based, and opened it to the public so that they could learn about their biology, physiology, behavior, body language, the safest way to interact with shark, kind of answer all those questions that people don’t really know about sharks.
And the cool thing is people actually get to get in the water with us and see for themselves, eye to eye, basically what sharks are really like. And it’s such a successful program because people are able to speak up for sharks from a first-hand perspective but also influence their networks, and change people’s minds.
We are also able to fund educational outreach through this, reef and beach cleanups, local conservation campaigns, and international conservation campaigns, like stopping the cull in Western Australia. This is a story for another time. Honestly I am kind of glad that I don’t have time to share tonight because I’d end up crying.
But we were able to save one of the juvenile sharks. She was under three meters, and she would have just died, even though she was cattle tagged improperly, and, you know, for 90 minutes, I swam with her, looking her in the eye, and trying to tell her it was going to be okay as blood was spilling out of her head, and kind of trying to tell myself it was going to be okay. After 90 minutes, she swam off: and it was that effort.
This is another conservation campaign, a little bit more well known. It reached over 2 million people in 2 days and featured none other than the lovely role model, Bella, who is so great for her species, a great representative.
And at the time when we released it, it was because there was a study that was put out that showed that there were less than 350 great whites, in the area from California to Alaska to Hawaii to Mexico. That’s an area where juansharks and I grew up diving with sharks, with white sharks specifically.