Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A Reasonably Healthy Love For Sharks - Part 2

By Ryan Pearson
Previously I told you about how I came to have this deep love and respect for sharks. The thing is, the only reason I felt the need to tell you that is because I need all of you to understand where I’m coming from, and to move your thought processes at least some distance in the same direction. I titled this post ‘A reasonably healthy love for sharks’ for a reason… I believe some shark enthusiasts go too far.

I don’t mean their love is too deep and they get into the kinky side of things, but I do mean that their ‘love’ blocks them from seeing the reasonable side of the argument when it comes to shark conservation. I believe there has to be some middle ground which everyone can agree on. The other reason is that I’d like to point out how unreasonable both our fear of sharks is, as well as our treatment of them.
The endangered Grey Nurse Sharks at Sth Solitary Island, NSW. Ryan Pearson
Firstly, let’s start with some basic facts directly from the wonderful Sarah Shark crew (if you haven’t heard of Sarah Shark, you should check this project out at I’m sure most of you have heard stats like these before but I’d just like to reiterate:
1.       On average, you are 80 times more likely to drown in Australian waters than you are to be attacked by a shark.
2.       The chance of being killed by a shark is 1 in 300 million. The chance of being killed by falling aeroplane parts is 1 in 10 million.
3.       Shark experts estimate that 100 million sharks are killed for their fins each year.

On top of this, I’ve heard figures along the lines of 95% of all shark species have been eradicated by over-fishing.  NINETY-FIVE PERCENT!! Let’s have a think about this in terms that could affect us. A figure not many people know is that plankton in the oceans produces approximately 70% of the breathable oxygen on Earth. That’s a hell of a lot more than trees produce. This means that the very existence of plankton is going a long way to keeping us alive. Now think about what would happen if the plankton disappeared? *Gasp… Gasp… wait for it… GAAASSSPPP*. This scenario is entirely plausible given that sharks, being the top of the food chain, are the main cause for keeping the population of plankton eaters in check. With no sharks, the plankton eaters thrive, and we all stop breathing… uh oh. Sure, I know there are probably a few flaws in this way of thinking but my point is that there are many, many, many, unforeseeable side-effects that could occur if we wipe out any species. 

Now we come to the real reason I wanted to write this particular article – the selling of shark products. I recently attended ODEX (Oceania Dive and Ecotourism Expo), which was a great event except for the inclusion of one business. I will not name the business, partly because I don’t want to get sued, but also partly because I don’t want to give them any publicity whatsoever. Anyway, the core of this business was the trading of shark jaws and teeth – including from a number of endangered species. It was not only shocking to see, but it also reeked!  I’m not sure why anyone would even consider buying one, let alone wanting to go close enough to actually make the purchase.

I don’t want to start a rant against this individual business, despite the owner having no interest in even thinking about doing this sustainably (yes, we did try to have a logical discussion with him until he became aggressive when he had no answers for us). But the thing is, these jaws were from endangered species, they were sourced from small Asian villages who have no interest in sustainable fishing when they are already struggling so hard to survive, and the whole idea of owning the actual ‘skeleton’ of a dead shark is just absurd. 

Three divers with a Leopard Shark at Julian Rocks, NSW. Ryan Pearson
What I want to do is offer an opinion on the whole industry itself, and hope to change the minds of others who are in it, or are considering selling similar products. My first point is… why does anyone want this product? The way I see it, the people most likely to want a shark jaw to display in their homes are shark enthusiasts. But the very idea of it being from a dead shark, likely killed just for the fins/jaws, should and would turn away any real shark enthusiast. So instead of selling the actual jaws, why not greatly reduce the number of sharks affected down to only a handful (of already dead sharks) and use the jaws you already have to make moulds of shark jaws. Offer them in all different materials and colours - plastic, gold, etc. I’d certainly be tempted to buy a gold shark jaw and put it straight in the pool room.

This is just one ‘reasonable’ solution I see, which could go a long way to protecting our sharks, and satisfying everyone on both sides of the debate. I heard a figure about a male lion once that said a poacher may kill it and sell the pelt for around $700, whereas if it was allowed to live it’s life, the value in ecotourism would be in the millions. The same idea goes for sharks, except they have a much wider value than only ecotourism dollars. 

Many ultra-conservationists (those holding an unreasonable love) may disagree, but we have to be realistic in the approach to rebuilding shark stocks. There is zero chance we’re ever going to cut out shark fishing all together (unless they’re all wiped out), so we need to make small steps in the right direction by offering a reasonable alternative. I won’t get into shark finning right now, but it is obviously a similar problem on a much greater scale and something we need a really ingenious solution to… why don’t you see if you can come up with one?

Sharks belong in the seas, with their fins and jaws still attached.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Very nicely written and said. Keep it up Mav