I love sharks. They are my favorite thing to see in the water. If you're coming from Part 2: Interview with a Shark Attack Survivor, why, you might ask, is my favorite thing to see in the water a vicious, blood-thirsty, rabid monster with a taste for human flesh. And my answer is because they are none of those things (see Part 1: Dive With Sharks...It's the Safest Thing You'll Do All Day, where you'll see that man's other best friend, dogs, are more likely to kill you than sharks). I love something misrepresented, misunderstood and generally misconceived. Of all the things I’ve seen in the water, sharks are the most graceful, discerning, and beautiful. They radiate finesse, power and restraint. They are living fossils, inhabiting Earth for longer than trees have been around, and have changed little since the dawn of their existence. They have supernatural abilities, 7 senses to our 5, arguably more common sense than us and undeniably serve a more positive and important role in the environment than we do.
What is that role? Sharks act as the trash collectors and auditors of the ocean, making sure that only the healthiest fish and sea creatures are passing on their genes. A shark’s favorite meal is not a strong, healthy fish, but a weak, injured or otherwise inferior specimen, basically an easy meal. Sharks, in short, are evolution's sharpest and most precise instrument. Many are also scavengers, feeding on the carcasses of already deceased animals like whales; and we’ve all seen what happens when a dead whale washes up on a beach... but why else is this important to us? As apex predators and keystone species, like wolves and lions, sharks ensure that the entire food chain remains in balance, which means if you eat seafood, or if you like to breathe oxygen (the ocean produces by far the most oxygen of any system on Earth, and also sequesters the vast majority of all carbon dioxide produced), sharks survival is incredibly important for you.
The sad, and frankly scary, issue is that sharks are in trouble. Besides the notorious, barbaric and asinine practice of shark finning for the Asian shark-fin soup market (sharks caught on lines or in nets have their fins sliced off while still alive, and are then dropped back into the water to drown) which in recent years is coming under intense scrutiny on the world stage, they face innumerable other threats. These include, but are not limited to, being caught as by-catch in other fisheries and ineffective fear-based culling efforts.
So what can you do?
First of all, don’t take Spielberg, Shark Week, Sharknado or any other shark-themed garbage at face value. In fact, don’t watch them at all, most of it is crap anyway. I love you Blake, but The Shallows is also crap. They are all trying to sell you movie tickets and ads by playing on, and developing, your fear of sharks. Instead watch something factually accurate and eye opening, like...
- Sharkwater, whose writer and director Rob Stewart (one of my idols and greatest role-models) recently passed away while working to protect sharks
- Mission Blue, created by Sylvia Earle, a pioneer of biological oceanography and a powerful female figure in the scientific community, and another of my greatest role-models
Talk to a convert… Try speaking with someone who was afraid of sharks and then took the chance to get in the water with them. Chances are you’ll find that they’re now in a torrid love affair with shark diving and shark conservation. Just ask my mom, dad, uncle, brother and cousin, all of whom I took on a shark dive in Roatan, Honduras.
Get your fins wet! Look into diving or swimming with sharks during your next dive trip or beach vacation. Travel specifically to do so. Trust me, you will not regret it, and you might even fall in love.
If that’s just not going to happen, check out your nearest aquarium and go watch a shark for a while. They are pure grace and power, and one of the oldest living things on Earth, older than dinosaurs. Although I don’t agree with captivity of large animals, it does have an important educational value in the right setting. Ask me where to go for such experiences!
- Speak out! Let your local representatives know that you don’t approve of shark finning practices, and that you think they deserve our protection.