National Shark Awareness Day

Carcharodon_carcharias_drawing
from Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa (1837)

July 14th is National Shark Awareness Day and it is now more important than ever that these sophisticated, endangered predators are respected rather than feared, and protected rather than tortured into extinction.

It’s not news that sharks have been greatly feared and even demonized; from the infamous Jersey Shore attacks of 1916 to the sensational novel and subsequent 1975 film “Jaws” (not to mention the uncontrollable spawn of sequels and other even less realistic movies), sharks have long been regarded as villains, as if anything in nature could truly be a “bad guy”.

Unfortunately, the frightening appearance of many species combined with accounts of attacks and the resulting panic means that sharks have probably had the worse PR of almost any animal. However, knowledge is power and it is also extensive ignorance that has led to these creatures being so feared and misunderstood. What they need, and what we need is to recognize sharks as the vital part of nature and the food chain that they are.

799px-oceanic_whitetip_shark.png
Oceanic Whitetip Shark

Other cultures already have and still do understand, respect, and even worship the shark. Dakuwaqa is a Fijian shark god and shape-shifter, believed to guard the reefs and protect the island’s fishermen from danger at sea.

This perspective might seem counter-intuitive to Westerners who have been programmed to not only be disconnected from almost all aspects of nature and the finer points of its functions, but specifically to fear and hate sharks as inherently aggressive “man-eaters”.

Fijians today still revere sharks and their shark god Dakuwaqa, and the high chiefs of the province of Cakaudrove are believed to be the direct descendants of sharks.

Dakuwaqa-71.1969.51.25-DSC00435-black
18th century Dakuwaqa figurine

“This relation between man and shark, in the chiefly province of Cakaudrove, is very important. The Turaga Na Tui Cakau stressed the importance of this tie. It is said when twins were born from the yavusa of Ai Sokula, it was decided that they be put into the sea.

The one that would turn into a fish would become their god, who is now known as Dakuwaqa. The one that would be human would be from where the bloodline of the Ai Sokula would come from.” – Ratu Manoa Rasigatale

(read the full article, Ratu Manoa Rasigatale: Sharkman of Fiji at SharkDefenders.com)

Below is a clip from the BBC Earth miniseries, “South Pacific” (available on Netflix as of publication), in which Fijian shark feeders demonstrate their close connection with sharks.

Sadly, the majority of the world does not share Fiji’s shark sentiments; in fact, it is quite the opposite. It is bad enough that widespread panic, sensationalism and ignorance led to massive hunts that continue to this day, but sharks have been under far heavier threats due to the spread of something else…a taste for shark fin soup.

It is currently estimated that 70-100 million sharks are mutilated and left to die every year for their fins, a staggering climb from how many were killed as recently as the 1980s. A bowl of shark fin soup can go for at least $100 and, unfortunately for sharks, about three times as many Chinese citizens can now afford to dine on shark fins as in the 80s.

Shark_finning_diagram.svg

One of the worst and most common arguments in favor of shark fin soup is that it is part of Chinese culture. Much like the claim that the barbaric dolphin hunts in Taiji are part of Japan’s culture (even though these hunts have only been going on since the 1960s), this argument is completely unfounded; while shark fin soup does indeed date back to China’s Ming Dynasty, it was only a very exclusive, very wealthy few who ate it. It was a status symbol and it still is…but again, unfortunately, it is a status that millions of Chinese have now reached.

Hiding behind one’s culture (especially “culture” that developed only within the past several decades) in order to justify doing something heinous that affects other people, nations, resources and habitats is despicable and weak.

It is important for people to know that there should be no real “controversy” over this unhealthy, unneeded food item because there is not a single true benefit to or reason for consuming it, and the cruelty and excess of the practice are the final nails in the coffin.

640px-Shark_finning by Sebastian Losada
Photo by Sebastian Losada

Even if shark fins weren’t riddled with mercury and were actually good for you, even if it truly was an important and valuable aspect of any culture (again, to be clear, it is not), it is the extremely inhumane ways and obscene rates at which they are slaughtered with no regard for sustainability that effectively prove that shark finning has no place in a responsible world.

Every year, millions of sharks are captured, often beaten and then stripped of all their fins and thrown back into the water, often while still alive, but not for long.

Chef Gordon Ramsay, in his revealing and infuriating documentary “Shark Bait” (2011), investigates the illegal and monstrous shark fin trade and very fittingly describes it as “…without doubt, the worst act of animal cruelty I have ever seen.” Six years after the release of this documentary and the atrocities continue. This will never stop being relevant or threatening as long as this evil trade exists.

Below is a clip from “Shark Bait”, which reveals the unforgivable reality of this revolting practice.

Please visit the links below to learn more about sharks and how you can easily help defend them, as well as everything you need to know about shark finning and the pointless, selfish pain and destruction it causes.

Sharks, like all apex predators, are as vital to the balance of nature and the food chain (and therefore our existence) as the lowliest prey, and it is our responsibility to maintain and even fight for that balance.

http://www.sharkdefenders.com/2011/08/10-things-you-can-do-to-protect-sharks.html
http://oceanfutures.org/news/blog/national-shark-awareness-day
http://www.stopsharkfinning.net/shark-fin-soup-facts/
http://www.defenders.org/sharks/stop-shark-finning

© 2017 M. Everwhite – All Rights Reserved

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