If you haven’t yet read John Balzar’s interview with Jean-Michel Cousteau on humanesociety.org, it’s worth your time. Balzar is an award-winning journalist (recipient of the Pulitzer, Ernie Pyle and Robert F. Kennedy International Humanitarian Award, to name a few) who became HSUS’ communications czar after a decade and a half at the Los Angeles Times, where he did some of the nation’s best reporting on nature and the environment, including human assaults on the oceans. Cousteau, carrying on the remarkable legacy of his father, is perhaps the world’s leading advocate for protecting marine environments and marine creatures.
© Undersea Hunter
Cousteau is a leader in the campaign to rehabilitate the image of sharks—the marine world’s apex predators. And the intervention comes not a moment too soon. One-fifth of all sharks and rays are considered to be threatened with extinction, and the annual human-caused toll we take on these sea creatures is staggering, with body counts that rival the slaughter totals we see amassed in industrial production of farm animals for food.
Shark finning and commercial fishing probably claim more than 100 million sharks a year, though precise numbers are impossible to come by. Shark finning is particularly indefensible and grotesque. Live sharks have their fins cut off and then the animals are often thrown back into the water, descending to the ocean floor and enduring agonizing deaths.
The fins are collected and sold to make shark fin soup—a broth that broadcasts wealth and prestige in Asian communities, particularly China. A more atrocious waste of life you will be hard-pressed to pinpoint, even in this world where so many people treat animal life as cheap and expendable.
There’s also homegrown mayhem on the shark front. Shark contests and tournaments now dot America’s coastline, and we are at the height of the shark tournament season. At these spectacles, commercial fishermen pursue and capture sharks, in order to win prizes for landing the biggest creatures. The prize-winning catches are hoisted up and displayed so the winners can bask in the adulation of spectators. It’s little more than contest killing, and the motivations could not be more gratuitous.
This coming weekend, June 14-16, Ocean City, Md. is hosting a shark-killing tournament. And the Long Island village of Montauk will host the 21st Star Island Annual Shark Tournament, sponsored by the Star Island Yacht Club and Marina. The competition, dubbed the "Crown Jewel" of tournaments, is known in the shark hunting community for the extravagant prizes awarded for killing the largest sharks. In 2006, 237 boats and more than 1,400 fishermen competed for cash, trophies and other prizes totaling beyond $725,000.
The HSUS’ Dr. John Grandy wrote an opinion-editorial about the Montauk tournament that appears in today’s issue of Newsday. He notes that the shark species targeted by the tournament (thresher, mako and blue sharks) have all experienced population declines. Thresher sharks, in particular, are in the most jeopardy.
These are appalling displays of selfishness and callousness. Hefty cash prizes are awarded for catching and killing the biggest shark in each of multiple categories—a variation of the more workman-like bounty killing programs that did such irreparable harm to wolves, grizzly bears and other terrestrial wildlife in North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nobody knows how many other sharks are caught, wounded and discarded in these contest hunts.
These spectacles will continue unless people stand up against them and shine a spotlight on the wastefulness and cruelty. Recently, The HSUS and concerned local citizens teamed up to persuade officials in Destin, Fla. to end the shark tournament there.
Please visit humanesociety.org/protectsharks to see how you can help end these tournaments and see if there are scheduled tournaments in your area. By doing so, you’d make Jean Michel Cousteau proud and you could help to save these mighty creatures before it’s too late.