The following is an editorial by Patty Civalleri, Exec VP, Iemanya Oceanica:
Hollywood and the media's depiction of sharks over the past decades has made people turn away when the topic of shark extinction is broached. General fear and apathy for one of the most important creatures on earth continues to create rooting sections for a blood-starved public appetite that would like to see 'those dangerous creatures' annihilated.
A few weeks ago, some poor guy was tragically killed by a shark along the Florida coast. The media, knowing of our voracious appetite for big toothy creatures that like to munch a lunch on mankind, plastered this headline all over every newspaper and TV station from here to Timbuktu. And yes, we ate it up. But the fact is that this was merely the 14th fatal shark attack off the Florida coast since 1896 - a point that was easily obscured or omitted in many articles.
Steven Spielberg's movie "Jaws" in 1975, was the 'tipping point' for public shark hatred, and since then the public has consumed all stories, movies, documentaries and headlines that depict sharks as blood-thirsty avengers who are single-mindedly hell-bent on consuming us poor innocent skivvy-clad beach goers.
The Discovery Channel has glommed onto the ratings-grabbing nature of sharks and has discovered that educating people about sharks wasn't ratings-grabbing enough. In their zeal to educate the public as to the gnarly bloody results that can happen if you film them correctly, they have all but forgotten the actual facts: the non-gnarly, non-blood-rendering sharks, and the important role they play as regulators of the ocean's ecosystem.
Meanwhile, the Asians are sipping shark fins (in the form of shark fin soup) 'til they come out of their, well, gills. The appetite for shark fins is so voracious that it has created a hugely competitive industry. Giant fishing boats trawl the seas daily netting up sharks by the thousands. Once found, they hoist them up, slice off their fins, and throw the live animals back into the ocean to drown. Drown! Fish drowning! Because of our gotta-haves for this crazy soup, we make prey out of predators.
Not a biggie? With so many sick children in the world, why would anyone want to spend time thinking about sharks? Well how about this: over 75 million sharks are finned and DROWNED each year. How long can they possibly last at that rate? In the past decade, we have seen an 80% decline in shark populations worldwide. People don't seem to care that within 10-20 years the ocean will be equivalent to a vast underwater desert. Think of an ecosystem or food chain as being vertical: When an apex predator (top of the food chain) is removed from the ecosystem, all species below it will crumble.
As a boater, I look at the ocean where my family has enjoyed many years of fishing and frolicking, I am reminded that my grandchildren will not know this kind of enjoyment except from old movies. Their Pacific will be a wasteland where algae, because it was the least interesting meal, was left to proliferate and now dominates the once relatively clean waters. Beach-front homes will become the least desired residences because the brownish muck that rolls in every 30 seconds is not only unsightly, but the leagues of algae and goo that are left to die and rot on the beach leaves a stench that will be smellable from miles inland.
Can Hollywood step up again?
Have we lost the fight before people really understand that there is even a fight to fight? If this is to be remedied, the public will need a goose in the denims. Maybe Hollywood and the media can step up and provide some of that creative magic to sway public consciousness away from our salivary glands and onto a more comprehensive solution-causing wave of pro-action. I'd love to see not a random act of kindness by a star who was talked into doing a shark stint at the Hilton, but a real effort to come up with some clever ways of looking at the ocean and really appreciating - not fearing - the beauty and the bounty in the form of food, jobs and commerce that a balanced ocean will bring to all of us. And our grandchildren.
Iemanya Oceanica is a Woodland Hills-based non-profit organization dedicated to the worldwide conservation of sharks, rays and their habitats to achieve a balanced ocean.