Reeling in Shark Tournaments

By on July 2, 2009 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Some parents believe that spectacles involving animal cruelty are a family affair. To my astonishment, we see adults with children in tow time and again at some large cockfights, and it is hard to believe that witnessing the revelry and the gambling as animals are torn apart in staged fights would not leave emotional scars, as well as a drawing down of the natural reservoir of empathy that children have for animals.

Social opinion may not be as decidedly negative on shark hunting tournaments as on cockfights and dogfights, but the point still holds. There is something desensitizing in having children present as adults whoop it up as they hoist up sharks they’ve killed and put them on display. These are contests kills of wildlife, and when our ProtectSharks campaign staff documented the scene at the Star Island Yacht Club in Montauk, N.Y. recently, there were plenty of kids present.

Reef shark
© iStockphoto

In one particularly unsettling scene, a blue shark was hoisted onto the dock, bloodied from being gaffed, his stomach hanging out of his gaping mouth, as children gawked. The message to the kids: killing animals for prizes is a cause for celebration.

It’s the wrong behavior, and the wrong message, and decent people should know better. Sharks are in trouble throughout the world, with perhaps 100 million sharks killed a year in commercial and sport fishing activities. Commercial fishermen kill the sharks for their fins—for soup. And the sport fisherman kill them for trophies. Both are wasteful and cruel. In fact, many of the sharks brought back to the dock at Star Island aren’t even heavy enough to qualify for the tournament and are ultimately killed in vain.

The good news is, we’re finally shining a spotlight on these spectacles and we are gaining allies. People like Jean-Michel Cousteau, Nigel Barker and Johnny Le Coq, cofounder of Fishpond USA, a major recreational fishing products company, are speaking out. And outrage from the community has turned the tide in some towns, like in Fort Myers, Fla., where a shark tournament recently became catch and release.

You too can get involved in helping to stop these cruel events, and we have more information at

Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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