President Obama: Please sign the Shark Conservation Act

With House and Senate approval, The Shark Conservation Act now awaits President Obama’s signature.  A signature that I personally hope is quickly forthcoming. Photo: K. Hogarth for UNEXSO

Washington, December 23, 2010 — Protecting Sharks through the Shark Conservation Act could be one of the nicest holiday gifts we cound render to Mother Nature.

With House and Senate approval, The Shark Conservation Act now awaits President Obama’s signature.

A beautiful pair of Caribbean Reef Sharks (Photo/K. Hogwart for UNEXSO)

A beautiful pair of Caribbean Reef Sharks (Photo/K. Hogwart for UNEXSO)

Sharks have been cruising the seas for more than 400 million years and today they are in danger thanks to their only predator – man.  

People fail to understand that the shark serves a vital need in the ocean as it “cleans” up, or scavenges, the ocean, eating wounded, dying and dead animals, allowing other marine life to flourish. 

Without them our oceans will become quickly become (more) polluted and die.  Quite simply, kill the sharks - kill the ocean - kill the humans.  It is a chain. And we are not being very smart about it.

Humans commercially hunt and kill more than one million sharks every year, mainly to fill the Asian market demands for the fins for shark fin soup.  The Shark Conservation Act would ban the practice of shark finning, a brutal act that has the fisherman slicing the fin from the live shark before tossing it back to die a slow and painful death, in U.S. waters.

Though not perfect and not without loopholes, one in particular continuing to allow the finning of smooth dogfish shark, the Shark Conservation Act will serve to protect vast numbers of the endangered animals.

“Sharks are in serious trouble,” Matt Rand, director of the Pew Environment Group’s Global Shark Conservation Campaign said in a statement on Monday. “An estimated 73 million are killed every year primarily to support the global shark fin trade.

“The Senate has acted decisively today to help protect sharks, the predators at the top of the global marine food chain,” Rand continued. “The Shark Conservation Act would once and for all end the practice of shark finning in U.S. waters and give the United States the credibility to persuade other nations and international fishery managers to follow suit.

Caribbean Reef Shark are hunted for their fins (Photo/K. Hogwart for UNEXSO)

Caribbean Reef Shark are hunted for their fins (Photo/K. Hogwart for UNEXSO)

Completely unnecessary, and not noted in the SCA are the fisherman that hunt and kill sharks in trophy fishing contests, such as those held annually in Tampa Bay Florida, where in 2009, Bucky Dennis caught and killed the record shark, a fifty-year old hammerhead shark, a “globally endangered” species.  Research shows that the hammerhead sharks   “are between 75 and 90 percent depleted in the Gulf of Mexico.   (2008).

Even sadder is that the shark Bucky decided was not worth as much as yet another trophy on his shelf, was, arroding to reports, a female.  A very pregnant female with fifty-five pups in gestation.

Unfortunately this is not Mr. Davis’ first, nor his last, shark murder unless shark protections are enacted.

Send the President a message.  The Shark Conservation Act against finning, is an excellant start. But tell him more needs to be done.  Shark kills for trophies also need to be outlawed while feeding and interactions with sharks need to be monitored and controlled.

The park service, and common sense, guards against humans feeding bears from their picnic baskets and similarly the feeding and interaction of humans and sharks should only be done by those qualified to do so.  

Another danger to sharks are those that hunt in the misguided belief that the fish are dangerous to humans even though they are not aggressive toward people.  Sharks have only ever bitten a person where there is food in the water or in cases of mistaken identity in low visibility areas such as turbulent surf and murky water. 

Yellow tail, dog fish, grouper and sharks peacefully cohabiting. (Photo/K. Hogarth for UNEXSO)

 

And then, of course, there are those instances of just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, creating an unsafe interaction, ofter as the result of human error.

In reality, Shark attacks are seldom and there are normally fewer than five unprovoked fatal shark encounters per year and those are viewed by experts as being a case of mistaken identity as sharks are only attracted to food in the water, and humans are not on their regular menu.  

It is also pertinent to remember that attacks happen in the shark’s territory.  They never come on land seeking their prey.

The most recently publicized attacks in the Red Sea of Sharm El Shiekh, one resulting in the death of a French tourist, have been reviewed at the bequest of the Egyptian Government and the results of the forensic inquiry are that the sharks were motivated by the illegal dumping of sheep carcasses and unrestrained fishing in the Red Sea, significantly reducing the natural fish stock and prey that the sharks feed on.  

There are also indications that dive operators have been feeding the sharks, a practice that could “habituate” the animals to see humans as a food source.  In addition glass bottom boat operators have similarly been feeding the animals, drawing them closer to the beach and popular tourist spots.

For the record, I have recently gone snorkeling in the Red Sea, in the area of the recent shark attacks and in an area closer to the Jordanian shore, and saw not one shark. 

Aggressive or otherwise.

After my up close and personal experience with these animals, and though I have no first hand experience with the Sharm el Sheikh diver operators, it seems to me that human errors may have very possibly lead to these attacks.  

During the shark dive with UNEXSO, I saw sharks swimming with all manners of fish, never once grabbing a quick bite.  However when the divers feed the sharks the dead fish, they were very happy to munch along. 

Tom from UNEXSO feeding a shark  (Photo/K. Hogarth for UNEXSO)

Tom from UNEXSO feeding a shark (Photo/K. Hogarth for UNEXSO)

Diving, I have encountered other sharks.  A nurse shark off the coast of Florida that swam beneath me, literally having her dorsal fin slice along my body and, just recently, in the waters off Ambergris Caye in Belize, a rather large nurse shark, she had be 9-10’ in length, began swimming below us as we ascended.  As we had plenty of air, we dropped back down to about 20’ above her and watched.

I do not know what she was doing.  I do know we stayed at a respectable distance.

In the end, there is room on this blue planet for all of us.  We need to respect all the creatures, great and small, that inhabit it. 

And, you know, in all fairness they were here first.

Jacquie Kubin is a 15-year, award-winning veteran of travel and culinary writing. Today, Jacquie edits and directs a staff of writers for Donne Tempo Magazine, where you can read more of her entertainment, travel and culinary reviews. Jacquie is always looking for new talents who want to expand their horizons.

E-mail Jacquie with ideas, questions or to share your writing dreams.  Follow Donne Tempo on Twitter and Facebook.


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Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award winning journalist that began writing in 1993 following a successful career in marketing and advertising in Chicago.  She started Communities Digital News in 2009 as a way to adapt to the changing online journalism marketing place.  Jacquie is President and Managing Editor of Communities Digital News, LLC and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times Communities as well as a member of the National Association of Professional Woman, New American Foundation and the Society of Professional Journalist.  Email Jacquie here

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