So, another fun whirlwind of a week comes to a close and the nation weeps big, salty tears. We laughed, we screamed, we raged against mockumentaries. Hopefully, we all learned a little something new, came to appreciate what was previously mistrusted, and spread the word. Now we will all go on with our lives as if nothing happened, waiting 51 more weeks until this time is upon us once again.
I’m talking about Shark Week of course. It brings us humans together as a species like nothing else, aside from maybe an alien attack or catastrophic climatic shifts (wait, I’m thinking of War of the Worlds, Independence Day, Signs, and The Day After Tomorrow). People love shark week, and yet sharks are one of the most misunderstood, demonized animals out there.
That’s why Shark Week is so important -people go in for the thrill, but come out (hopefully) with a new understanding of, and appreciation for, these amazing creatures. Despite what movies like “Jaws” will have you believe, sharks are not monsters hell-bent on destruction of the human race. All they really want is to swim around eating, growing, procreating, and avoiding predation.
On the flip-side, humans might be acting like the monsters hell-bent on the destruction of shark species. I don’t say this from a “humans are evil” standpoint, by the way. I say this from the perspective that, because humans are a dominant species with many capricious but insatiable desires/demands of limited and ecologically significant resources/supplies. Basically, our intentions are not to decimate shark populations but that’s what is happening anyway.
It’s estimated that sharks kill about 12 people per year. Yes, that is sad but the world is a dangerous place. For a fabulous list of things more likely to kill (or injure) you than sharks, please see this link: 20 Things That Kill More People Than Sharks Every Year. Included in this list are dogs, jellies, and volcanoes. People will often make the argument that “of course you’re around dogs more than sharks, it’s statistically more dangerous.” Good point. I live (and work) much closer to sharks than many people, but realistically speaking, I don’t live really any closer to a volcano than a sizable shark population. Yet I am more likely to be injured by one than the other. My personal, favorite statistic is that you are much, much more likely to be bitten by another person than a shark. I haven’t had either one happen to me yet, knock on wood.
On the other hand, it’s estimated that humans kill a whopping 100 million sharks per year. Some genius has created a fabulous infographic that I will post at the end of the article, illustrating this point. And people don’t kill sharks to use all the parts. The most valuable parts of a shark are the fins, the liver, and maybe some meat. This means that sharks are killed in the most gruesome ways.
“Shark finning” is the process in which a shark is captured, the fisherman cuts the fins off (of the living shark), and then throws the (still living, very bloody) shark back into the water to die a slow death. Warning you now, the following statement is very much opinionated: that is freaking sick. Can you imagine being pulled out of your home, having your limbs sliced off without anesthetic, then being thrown away? It’s barbaric, and beneath us as a species. This is all for the sake of shark-fin soup, a delicacy in many cultures; it’s so ritzy, it can net a ton of money for each bowl. Shark finning is also illegal in many countries.
But finning alone is not responsible for the deaths of all these sharks. Some sharks are caught for their large, oily livers to make dietary supplements and cosmetics (shark liver lipstick: attractive?) and such. I’ve seen Thresher Shark steak on a menu in a fancy hotel restaurant in Flagstaff, Arizona; they got the nastiest note I’ve ever written. Another big problem is ghost-fishing, where defunct fishing gear out in the environment still catch and kill thousands of animals. By-catch is another big one, where animals are accidentally caught while targeting a different species. And let’s not forget habitat destruction, from trawling or pollution.
Whew! That’s a lot of doom and gloom! Why do people want to murder-kill sharks so badly? Like I said, we don’t really hate them. Many cultures revere them. They’re a staple of some cultures’ diets or religions. Obviously, they’re a pop icon in American culture. And for all the efforts of Shark Week to reconcile our fear with our curiosity and love, we are still driving these apex predators to extinction.
The good news is that there is good news: people are becoming more aware of the plight of the sharks and making changes to help these magnificent creatures. There are things you can do, too.
You’ll hear it forever, but REDUCE, REUSE, and RECYCLE. Use as few resources as possible, use whatever you must until it’s completely useless for anything, and then recycle it so that it can be reincarnated as something else. Things like coffee cups can’t be recycled (right now), so whenever I end up with one, I use it as a planter for my garden.
Also, say NO to shark finning and other shark products. http://www.hsi.org/issues/shark_finning/facts/sharks_on_the_shelf.html provides a pretty good summation of products that have shark in them. Don’t buy those, and write companies letters explaining why you will no longer be using their products. Ultimately, they want your business but they won’t know why you aren’t handing over the moolah unless you write them.
Get involved with government. Especially if you live in a coastal city, state, or country, go to local town meetings and hearings to make your voice heard.
Volunteer for shark conservation. If you don’t live near sharks, volunteer with an aquarium or zoo to educate people about sharks. There’s a list of shark conservation projects at http://www.hsi.org/issues/shark_finning/facts/sharks_on_the_shelf.html
Learn more, and spread the love! That’s why I wrote this long post about sharks. I have a whole article at work about why sharks are amazing; maybe I’ll share it sometime.
In the meantime, happy shark week!!!
Link to image here