As SharkWeek nears, with all the hype and excitement it appears to conjure, I feel compelled once again to speak out on behalf of these wonderful inhabitants of our planet.
SharkWeek originally began as a public educational forum of sorts, offering some of the knowledge of researchers and biologists from around the world, to lay people in a format that was engaging and “real”. It became such a popular program so quickly that it expanded in the time allotted and in the variety of material covered. Unfortunately, over time what was lost was the science. It was replaced with sensationalism and alarmism as these are what generated discussion and a viewing audience in the greatest numbers.
I have, from the earliest days of SharkWeek, listened to people of all walks of life talk about what they have seen and learned on these programs morph over time into what was the antithesis of what was intended. The initial programs, and those people involved, collectively were designed to help lay people became understanding of sharks in the hope that the unfounded fear and detest of them would change. Now SharkWeek simply plays programs over and over, focused on sensationalizing the fearful aspects of sharks.
In the time since I worked as a shark biologist, the world wide population of sharks as a whole has been decimated. It is widely accepted in the scientific community that as much as 95% of all sharks on the planet have been killed over the past 15-20 years. Due to the fact most of this occurs in the vastness of the open oceans, away from human witness, there has been little outcry or action. Every year, estimates placed a number of around 150 million sharks being killed for the finning “industry”. This is a massive scale, multi-country operation of illicit trade that rivals the contraband illicit drug trade and involves illegal capture and finning of sharks in virtually every country of the world that has oceanic borders.
I really question the humanity in the focus of SharkWeek. Why, when there is an audience as large and captive as what occurs for a full week of round the clock coverage of SharkWeek, do the producers not show the ethical and moral obligation to present these animals for what they truly are? Sharks have been present on this planet, virtually unchanged for close to half a billion years. They have survived multiple mass extinctions, multiple ice ages, catastrophic environmental changes and still remain as the top regulators in almost all marine environments. Yet in a world where climate change is the enemy of so many species, it is the continued alarmism and fear focused attention that sharks get that leave them vulnerable to such a massively destructive practice such as shark finning. People do not care because they are fearful of sharks for perceptions only. People do not care because they cannot care about something they are unaware of.
Spread the word, spread the knowledge and help the world change to be a greater place. There are so few things in this world where simply being educated and knowledgeable can make such a difference. This is one of them. Talk to your members of parliament and help to prevent shark fin products from being accepted in this country and worldwide. Do your part. Be the change.
By Dr. Jason McLeod