Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation

I have never personally seen a shark, but Mom has seen lots of them. There are lots of tiger sharks swimming around Wassaw Island and she worked at on a beach in Costa Rica where the bull sharks would come right up onto the beach. She has also seen what they can and do to sea turtles, but that hasn't changed her opinion about them one bit. She even swam with some and said that they are really gentle giants.
Mom swam with this guy, a black tip reef shark. Not a problem.
Here's the white tip reef shark. Mom said this guy didn't even give her a second look when she was in the water.
This hammerhead shark may look scary but Mom said she was thrilled to be in the water with him. She said he looked even cooler in person than in pictures. I'll just have to take her word for it.
Sharks really get a bad rap. Mom likens it to the bad rap that snakes get. Sharks are the snakes of the ocean and they are too often killed just to be killed. They are also often killed because of greed and now some courageous people are stepping forward to doing something about these senseless killings.

This week nine shark survivors from around the country joined animal advocates in Washington to show their support for the Shark Conservation Act of 2009. What exactly is this act? The act would strengthen the ban on shark finning, eliminate loopholes, and encourage shark conservation programs all over the world. The act was introduced by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) in April and passed by the House of Representatives later that month. We need sharks just like we need snakes, but we need to educate people about the role sharks play in the ecosystem before it's too late.

Sharks have been around for over 400 million years. They are the top predators in the marine ecosystem and without them the marine ecosystem will collapse. These fish are feared by most people and Mom thinks it really got started when the movie Jaws was released back in the summer of 1975. People were suddenly scared to go into the ocean, fearing sharks were going to eat them alive. Right. Did you know that you are more likely to be killed by lightning than by a shark? It's true.

So why do we need to protect them from shark finning? Shark finning is even worse than longline fishing and you already know how horrible that is. Large boats take to the oceans looking for schools of sharks. When they find them, one by one the sharks are pulled from water, their fin is cut off and then they are dumped back into the ocean to die a slow death. How cruel! How wrong! How can we let this continue?

Greed is definitely at work in the shark finning business. The market for shark fins, which are used in the Asian delicacy shark fin soup, is the major driving force in the overfishing of sharks. I say overfishing because over 70 million sharks are killed around the world each year. 70 million! That's a lot of sharks. And remember, no sharks, no marine ecosystem.

Each ecosystem needs a top or apex predator and the food web is dependent upon the role these apex predators play. Their job is to keep all the other species below them in check by essentially managing their numbers - not allowing for too many of any one species to dominate and overfeed. We are seeing a breakdown in another food web staple these days with the overpopulation of jellyfish. But why so many jellyfish? Not enough leatherback sea turtles to feed on them. The marine ecosystem and really all ecosystem are really delicate food webs. These food webs had been great for so many millions of years until we came along. The time is now to make changes. Before it's too late.

You may be asking yourself how it is that we even allow such a practice like shark finning in the U.S. It is banned here, but loopholes in the law hamper it effectiveness. I'm not sure what the loopholes are, but I'm working on finding out. Many other countries still allow shark finning which is not surprising because many countries also allow longline fishing.

So if over 70 million sharks a year are killed, what exactly is happening to the populations? Sharks are long lived fish, but there isn't any firm data on how long exactly they live because it is hard to study them in the wild and extremely difficult to keep most sharks in captivity. A re
cent report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified 35 out of 64 known pelagic (open ocean) shark and related ray species around the world as Threatened or Near Threatened with extinction. This is not good news, but I believe there is still time to turn things around. This is exactly what the shark attack survivors are hoping to do. Their hope is to make a difference using their unique experiences to get the message out.

One survivor from Raleigh, North Carolina who lost his arm after being bitten while surfing in Florida in 1976, runs a shark attack survivors network and also tags and releases sharks for research. This is what is called turning a negative into a positive. This guy could have been bitter and hated sharks forever but he learned that sharks deserve our respect, especially when we are in their territory.

Other survivors who are speaking include a woman from California who was bitten in the leg off of Maui in 1999. She realizes that overfishing sharks is a serious issue and that we must take steps to stop it. Another guy who had a run in with a shark in Hawaii (Kauai) and now surfs with a prosthetic leg understands that everything in the in the oceans depend on the survival of sharks. Yet another shark survivor, a man who was bitten on the arm, tells people that just because you don't want to swim and play with them doesn't mean we should kill them. Amen to that.

But what can you do? Educate yourself about sharks and the role they play in the marine ecosystem. Educate others about sharks. So few people know anything about sharks, other than what they see on tv or in the movies that any information you can give them is great. Don't eat at restaurants that serve shark fin soup. By not eating at these establishments, we are speaking volumes to the restaurant owners who only see profits, not suffering. Get involved in shark conservation and let you voice be heard. We can and we will stop shark finning. It's just a matter of time. We will not let these great beings be lost to the world forever. Not just because it means the collapse of the marine ecosystem, but because it's just not right.


Archie and Melissa said...

oh my goodness!
those pictures are amazing!
we think sharks are so cool. the ultimate survivors.
thank you for all of the great information!
m & e

Stubby said...

Hi Melissa and Emmitt! Sharks are really cool and they are definitely the ultimate survivors. Let's just hope they can survive this lastest round of challenges.

Stubby xoxo

Stacy Walker said...

We love your post. We like Sharks too. Every being has a purpose. I don't understand why we can't just live and let live.

Kelly said...

Oh Stubby, I have never really read about shark finning, and the description of it just about makes me sick. What is WRONG with the people who can only see dollar signs and have no sense of humane treatment of this world's creatures?! Ugh!!

Thanks again for spreading the word on behalf of these creatures who can't advocate for themselves.

Mia said...

My mommy likes sharks too!! She's glad to hear that people are trying to help them. Especially the survivors!! They are the ones that make the biggest impacts.

Stubby said...

Hi Stacy and Brutus! Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you love this post because this issue is becoming more important each day. I don't know why we can't just live and let live either but with everyone's help, the sharks have a chance.

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hey Pearly Poo - I'm so glad you read this post so that you are now aware of this awful practice. Shark finning is complete torture and should be illegal. Hopefully the Shark Conservation Act will pass and people will stop killing them.

Stubby xoxo

Stubby said...

Hi Lilo! I'm so glad your mom likes sharks. They are really cool animals and we really need them.

I agree that the survivors can have the biggest impact on the conservation of sharks and I hope the Shark Conservation Act gets passed. When it does, I will throw a party!

Stubby xoxo

Hiddencat said...

I'm all for protecting sharks, but the statistic you quote about being more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a shark is misleading. According to the Shark Research Institute (, "[s]tatistically, lightning poses a greater threat to individuals than most other natural hazards. On average, it causes 5 to 10 deaths and over 100 injuries in Australia each year. These deaths include industrial, indirect hits, boats hit by thunderstorm squalls, tree limbs falling on people, buildings damaged, debris hurled about in high winds etc." This statistic also doesn't adjust for time spent in the water; the total number of shark attacks around the world is under-reported as well. Additionally, the unprovoked shark attack statistics do not include shark attacks during disasters at sea, attacks on boats or marine vessels, and in the 2008 statistics, "18 cases in which insufficient information was available to determine if an unprovoked shark attack had occurred" ( Sharks should be protected not on the basis of whether or not they pose a risk to humans, but because they are an essential component of the marine ecoystem and have as much a right to existence as we do.