I was on Larry King on Wednesday to be part of a panel on sharks in
support of Discovery’s Shark Week. The panel consisted of Phillipe
Cousteau, Jack Hannah, Les Stroud, myself, and two shark mistake
survivors: Chuck Anderson, and Valerie De la Valdene. Most of them
had seen Sharkwater.
The Discovery and CNN approach to the panel was to languish on the
danger and adventure of sharks, then get into the conservation
issues. What started out as speaking of the most dangerous beaches,
the most dangerous sharks, etc evolved into a very different
conversation. All panelists, including two shark mistake survivors,
shifted the conversation, discussing how sharks aren’t predators of
people, that they make mistakes, that they’re incredibly important to
ecosystems, and that they’re being wiped out. Questions about how
dangerous sharks are were met with answers like, “they’re not that
dangerous, but that’s not even the point. The point is that they’re
being wiped out and we need to do something.”
It was a great day, and a sign in the shift of consciousness
regarding the world’s most feared predator. People can love and care
for something they don’t fully understand. We have that capability.
The conversation about sharks is changing, and we’re all part of it.
The president of Ecuador overturned legislation banning the sale of fins last week. Now sharks that are caught, even accidentally, can become profitable from the sale of their fins. I was just on Larry King with a wildlife photographer from the Galapagos Islands, and she said that as soon as the new legislation was passed, the islands were ravaged. This legislation basically opened the season on sharks, turning the Galapagos Islands, one of the last refuges for sharks, into a target. This is a bad move for Ecuador, and a step in the wrong direction considering most countries are stepping up their protection, not removing it. Let Ecuador know that you’re tourist dollars will be spent elsewhere until they replace the ban.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) took place recently, and most of the world’s countries gathered to decide which species would receive international protection. There were three shark species proposed to be listed: the spiny dogfish (fish and chips), the porbeagle (like a smaller great white), and saw sharks.
These proposals would add three more sharks to the list that so far only contains the basking shark, whale shark and the great white shark. Getting species listed is often a case of politics, as only the most charismatic of megafauna tend to make it. The great white is the most recognizable shark, while the basking and whale sharks have no teeth, and are popular tourist attractions.
The proposed listing of the porbeagle and spiny dogfish on CITES were met by fierce resistance by the US, New Zealand, with Canada leading the opposition. With having 29000 names and pledges in support of these species protection, and receiving over 2500 emails from savingsharks.com supporters, the US decided to support the listing, while Canada’s stance stayed firm, and they pushed for the species to remain off the CITES list. Canada and New Zealand’s presence at the assembly swayed voters, and the sharks were not placed on the CITES list, despite recommendations by top scientists that their populations had declined by over 90%.
CITES is a bit of a popularity contest, and what is under the ocean is so often out of sight and out of mind. The first fish was put on the CITES list only in 2004, while terrestrial animals enjoyed decades of increased protection.
The movement to save sharks is growing, but it needs more pressure from consumers and the general public. The politicians and decision makers will respond, as the people have ultimate power.