Changing the Image of Sharks

By January 17, 2011Ocean News

Sharks definitely have a bad wrap as human-eating machines, but in the last few years I’ve noticed a change the way Ocean Leaders are describing and observing these supposedly fearsome eating machines. The movie Sharkwater is a great example. The movie shows Rob Stewart (the filmaker and marine biologist) “hugging” sharks underwater while SCUBA diving. Rob spends time during the movie to explain his connection with sharks and their gentle nature.

Terry Lilley, a Speak Up for the Blue Ocean Leader, has similar feelings towards the shark species. He mentions the connection he establishes with local sharks in Hawai’i when he dives alone at night. “I often dive by myself at night in order to connect with my shark friends and teachers. I know them by name; I know who they are. They are my ohana and I will do what I can to protect them just like anyone else would protect their family (link).” In the media, shark finning (the act of cutting off shark fins and discarding the rest of the body, alive, in the sea to sell on the market for shark fin soup) has also changed the shark’s image from ferocious predator to innocent victims.

Shark protection is a hot priority for many scientists, environmental organizations, and Ocean advocates as shark finning kills millions of sharks per year for shark fin soup, a dish popular as a status symbol in certain social circles. Hawai’i recently protected sharks in order to eliminate finning by passing a law in state, but the key to their protection will be enforcement of the law. Illegal finning is a common occurrence due to the high price a finner can get after it’s sold on the market. According to the Sharkwater movie, the high cost of shark fins attracts organized crime, which makes the problem worse to stop shark finning.

Stopping shark finning goes beyond enforcement in my opinion though. Supply and demand is the key factor in this saga. If shark fin soup was not such a status symbol, then the demand would plummet as would shark finning. Changing the image of sharks would gain more affection from humans.

How would you change the negative image of sharks into a more positive one?

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