A shark-friendly life, you say?
Perhaps you’re like me. Perhaps sharks are the last thing that you ever imagined you would need to think about protecting when you shop, dine, or chat with friends about protecting the Earth. I mean, sharks are powerful predators, right? (With rows of razor-sharp teeth!?) Who needs to protect them?! It took me years to realize their needs myself, in part because I needed a major change in perspective.
What I mean is, growing up around the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, my brother and I wore shark teeth necklaces to fit-in, and finding racks of sharks’ jaws and teeth in souvenirs shops was always exciting for us. (“Scary!” “Cool!” were key descriptors.) We played with plastic figurines of teeth-bearing sharks in the bathtub and loved to imitate the vicious attacks that our television told us that sharks ‘do.’ We thought that we understood their nature, pegged them menacing predators that were everywhere in the oceans and were a danger to humans.
It wasn’t until years later, through aquarium trips where I first witnessed living sharks that I started to understand how beautiful and vulnerable sharks really were. Watching these majestic creatures pass gracefully alongside and over my head, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by their grace and stealth. They moved like no other creature that I had ever seen. Sure, they were intimidating, but they were also powerful and magnificent.
A S.C.U.B.A. dive to Shark Junction in the Bahamas during my late teens really sent that message home. Though I was initially terrified to become surrounded by a dozen or so Caribbean reef sharks that were longer than I was tall, I learned quickly that I had nothing to fear from these animals. The sharks passed around me from all sides, stared into me with their penetrating pupils, and frequently swam straight towards me – set on a collision path with my mask until, just inches from my face, they would deviate, glide over my head in an effortless motion. They were remarkable, and they didn’t even try to hurt me. I couldn’t help but be amazed by them, and my love for sharks grew exponentially that day.
Now, I am working with Greenpeace, and I have come to understand that sharks are in a lot of trouble. Thankfully, Greenpeace is dedicated to protecting our Earth’s great oceans and their countless residents (sharks included). That being said, we wanted to tell you all that…
Shark Week is here!
We here at Greenpeace are very excited to share that one of our favorite times of the year has arrived: Shark Week! The Discovery Channel’s ‘Shark Week’ is scheduled to start this weekend (8 p.m. ET, August 10th to be precise) for its 27th year on the air.
Why is this such a great thing? Well, through their programs, the Discovery Channel does a lot to educate people about ‘the whole picture of sharks.’ In other words, sure, they show plenty of incredible shark attacks on prey species and sometimes humans, but they share it all in context, showing how amazing these creatures are in every way and how challenged they have become by human influences (more on this later). But, hey – I won’t spoil it all for you here. I truly encourage you to check it all out for yourself. (Here’s a look at this year’s line-up.) Now…
In honor of the sharks, here are some “Shark-Friendly Tips” for you and yours towards protecting our ancient friends for eons to come:
(1) Don’t eat/wear/use sharks! (And tell other people not to, too!)
I found it shocking, but there are numerous edible and otherwise popular products extracted from sharks in both illegal and legal slaughters around the world. Here’s a handful of them, and how they are typically used by humans. As you’ll see there, shark body parts end-up in things from dinner items to vaccines, cosmetics, and arthritis treatments, but one of the most significant causes for shark deaths each year is the shark fin market.
Whereas much of a shark’s body is not consumed by humans, there is a high demand in areas of Asia and finer dining restaurants the world over for shark fins in the form of shark fin soup. Shark finning is a horrific, wasteful process, where sharks are stripped of their dorsal, pectoral, and sometimes other fins while they are still alive – often tossed back into the ocean to sink helplessly to their death right afterwards. This industry has been around for ages, and kills thousands of sharks an hour.
Here at Greenpeace, we say “Stop Shark Finning”. We’ve been building public awareness about shark finning worldwide for years, and seen victories in petitioning companies (like Philippines Airlines) to stop supporting the trade and supporting legislation to criminalize the possession and trade of shark fins in New York. Yet, there is still very much to do.
Your key to victory for the sharks day-to-day here is to not consume these products. Here’s more about where shark products turn-up in the things we humans use, and how to look-out for them within your shopping.
(2) Don’t eat seafood products that threaten sharks or their habitats.
In addition to avoiding eating sharks out-right, it is important to make sure that (if you eat seafood) the seafood products that you buy are not responsible for the death of sharks to the fullest extent possible.
In part, this means that you are looking for seafood selections that are associated with the least ‘bycatch’ in their fisheries, meaning that as few non-target species like sharks are harmed as possible within the collecting of target species like tuna. The issue of bycatch is one of the reasons that Greenpeace has taken such a strong stance on FAD-free tuna through the years. Sharks are also brutally killed from illegal shark finning on tuna vessels. This Shark Week, Greenpeace is launching a public campaign to get tuna companies like Bumble Bee Foods to clean up its act — and you can take action here!
You are also looking to avoid seafood products associated with overfishing. Overfishing knocks the seas off-balance all together, including depleting them of prey species for sharks and other predators. This amazing report by Oceana highlights some of the negative impacts that human activities like overfishing and aquaculture can have on predatory species like sharks.
So, key words for victory here are ‘sustainable seafood,’ and your best guide in the world to finding that is Greenpeace’s own Sustainable Seafood Consumer Hub, where you can evaluate your own favorite grocers and seafood purchases on their sustainability rankings. More information on those rankings can be found in our Carting Away the Oceans (CATO) report, which offers a useful scorecard for you to keep with you while you shop!
(3) Respect & protect: Encourage appropriate views towards sharks within society, and take actions to protect sharks! (Note: This step is critical to global success within steps 1 & 2.) Let’s face it, movies like ‘Jaws’ and news stories about shark attacks ignite fear in people like nothing else. And, as much as you and I might love sharks, many folks only have these sorts of negative associations built around sharks so far. That leaves us with folks that either want to stay as far away from sharks as possible, see them dead, or that just frankly don’t care about them at all. But, we know better.
Sharks are ancient. They’ve been on the planet for 100’s of millions of years, vs. our species’ minuscule 200,000 years or so. So, they’re amazing. On top of that, sharks are apex predators and keystone species – critical to the balance of life in the Earth’s oceans.
Yet, globally, many species are facing extinction. Sharks need human friends to survive, so it’s important for those of us aware of how important they are to the balance of our oceans and simply appreciate them for the beautiful creatures that they are to share the message! For instance, we can inform our friends that their odds of being killed by a shark within their lifetime are something like 1 in 4 million. In other words, you are actually more likely to die falling out of your own bed or being crushed by a vending machine than to be killed by a shark. Fueled by accurate, holistic perspectives, we can move our consumption choices and legislators to protect sharks from our own, human species more effectively all the time. Then, we can enjoy healthier oceans and announcing ‘Shark Week’ for generations to come. 😉
Thanks folks, and enjoy Shark Week!