Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tales From The Shark Side

After years of being inundated with shark movies, Shark Week and being told how to save someone from a shark attack, now we are learning how to save sharks from humans.

Sharks have been swimming the world’s oceans for 400 million years.  They have survived mass extinction events but are now endangered because of us.  Sharks may be popular villains, but they are a vital part of the world’s ocean ecosystems.

Last weekend, I was volunteering for Oceana, which had a booth at Nautica’s New York City Triathlon in Central Park.

Oceana is a non-profit ocean conservation and advocacy organization created ten years ago by several foundations.  It merged with Ted Danson’s American Oceans Campaign to become the largest such group working hard to prevent collapse of fish populations, stop ocean pollution, protect sea turtles from extinction and other important causes.

At the Triathlon their focus was their Shark Campaign.  Oceana is pushing for shark finning bans, reduced shark bycatch (sharks caught in nets) and other forms of protection through policy, science and legal work.

Our goal was to accumulate 500 signatures to send to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to help save sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.

We moved through the park like . . . sharks.  While we didn't attack anyone, we did keep moving, hungry for signatures, offering bracelets of support to those that signed our petition.

Soon it looked like I was gonna need a bigger clipboard.  I was being harpooned with one strange rejection after another.

One woman asked when the sharks had arrived in Mexico.  Um, I guess we weren’t clear we were talking about the Gulf of Mexico .

Others gave the simple “No…I’m good.”

“Yeah, but the sharks aren’t!” I wanted to say.

“I’m with the Ocean Conservancy, but no.”


“Sharks!  Not while I’m swimming,” one girl exclaimed.  “Dolphins, yes.  Whales, yes. Sharks, no way!”

They say the same about you, I thought.

One man started off sensible and then said that we should round up all the people who catch sharks and shoot them instead.  No thanks, Chief Brody.

My favorite response was “Call Spielberg.”  I just might, considering how much Jaws – which is one of my favorite movies – has hurt the image of sharks.

As Hooper said to Mayor Vaughn in Jaws: “I think you're going to ignore this particular problem, until it swims up and bites you on the ass!”

Despite everything, we made our goal of 500 signatures.  We didn’t bite anyone, but we did swim up to them.  To truly protect these important creatures, we are going to need an even bigger clipboard.

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