This Shark Week, let's love an animal that scares us
As Shark Week appears on the Discovery Channel for the 25th year, I have to wonder whether in another 25 years, it will air on The History Channel instead. After more than 400 million years on planet Earth, sharks are being decimated by overfishing and the lucrative trade in shark fins.
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Americans may not be able to stop the huge demand in China, but they can cut off supply and curb demand in their own corner of the world.
Much is already been done. Last year, President Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act to close the loopholes of the 2000 Shark Finning Prohibition Act. Last Friday, the environmental groups Oceana and Shark Stewards petitioned the federal government to list the declining northeastern Pacific Ocean population of great white sharks as an endangered species. The genetically distinct population off the coast of California has dwindled to only about 340 individuals and is in danger of extinction.
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At the state level, in 2011 Hawaii became the first state to ban the possession, sale, and distribution of shark fins. Similar laws have also been enacted with bipartisan support in Washington, Oregon, California, and Illinois. Organizations including The Humane Society and Shark Stewards are preparing to introduce such a bill in Texas. But more states must enact such laws.
Internationally, Americans can join the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and its partners by urging the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list endangered hammerhead sharks under Appendix II at the next Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES), which will make it more difficult for other countries to trade the fins and other body parts. Restrictions on international trade are in place for only three shark species – the whale shark, great white shark, and basking shark. Getting hammerheads and similarly threatened shark species listed is essential for ensuring their survival.
We need cultural fixes, too. Most of us are programmed to feel threatened by sharks and consequently, we turn them into objects of fear. Shark Week seeks to mitigate this through science-based entertainment. In Dallas, the Museum of Nature and Science is taking the lead with its Planet Shark exhibit, closing on Sept. 16 with a talk by Shark Stewards’ award-winning shark conservationist David McGuire, who will appear on Discovery’s Shark Week Aug. 15.
OPINION: How Alaska keeps its seas from being overfished
Facing facts, we must confront a genuine paradox: We have to find a way to preserve a creature that scares us in order to save species essential to maintaining balanced oceans. This Shark Week, in between the suspense and thrills, we must ask ourselves: How do we ignite our moral conviction and desire for justice to protect a creature as unsympathetic as the shark?
Because the truth is, sharks should be more afraid of us than we are of them.
Anna M. Clark is president of EarthPeople and the author of “Green, American Style: Becoming Earth-Friendly and Reaping the Benefits.” This op-ed is via The Op-ed Project.