There are exactly 4 days, 9 hours, 13 minutes, and 8 seconds until my favorite day of the entire year.
It’s not my birthday, it’s not Christmas, it’s the first day of Shark Week! Shark Week is an annual program on the Discovery Channel which has a variety of shows including testimonies from experts, information on shark behavior, and best of all, real footage of these fascinating animals.
From a young age, I have always had an obsessive interest in sharks which is undoubtedly a result of their dominant presence in U.S. media and entertainment as fearsome apex predators of the ocean. This interest, celebrated and perpetuated by Shark Week, can create awareness about the shark’s endangered status. Unfortunately, it can damage it as well.
The widely held view of sharks as fear-inspiring monsters of the deep undermines the great need for sympathy and intervention as they are hunted to near-extinction. 63 to 273 million sharks per year are victim to fishing methods like Shark finning. Shark finning is a horrifying practice in which fishers catch sharks and cut off their fins, often discarding them back into the ocean to slowly die. The fins and cartilage from slaughtered sharks are sold for high prices and consumed in shark-fin soup or for their purported medicinal purposes.
Shark populations have also declined as a result of overfishing and bycatch. Destructive modern fishing practices, like long lining, trawling and tuna seining using FADs, trap and kill sharks as well as other marine life. It is estimated that some populations of sharks have declined by 99 percent. Even worse, sharks’ slow reproductive rate puts them at particularly high risk of extinction.
Fortunately, I am able to help in the fight to save the sharks by interning for Greenpeace this summer. Greenpeace’s Oceans campaign has made great strides in convincing the tuna industry to use and consumers to support more sustainable practices which do not harm sharks. There has also been progress with the Greenpeace global goal of creating marine reserves in which sharks could exist free of human threats. The organization is also part of a coalition to ban shark finning that recently helped pass a bill banning the shark fin trade in New York. Greenpeace also has ships out gathering evidence on and confronting illegal vessels in all of the world’s oceans.
This Shark Week, as we enthusiastically take in the footage of giant great white sharks jumping miraculously out of the ocean to catch their prey, jaws wide and lethal, it is important to remember who the real predator is in our environment. If human practices continue as they have, there might not be a Shark Week for future generations. Visit Discovery Channel’s Save the Sharks page and get involved with Greenpeace to see what you can do to help make sure every year to come will have its Shark Week.