Friday, February 19, 2010

The Plight of the Great White

It's really hard for me to write about sharks. It makes me angry. Unlike with so many species under the threat of extinction, when I try to talk to people about sharks, the message just doesn't get through. Show them a movie about Taji and they get infuriated. Have them look into the eyes of a tiger cub and they are overwhelmed with emotion. Maybe it's that sharks aren't warm and fuzzy enough - maybe if they had hair, people wouldn't be so leery of them. Maybe it's too many childhood memories of late-night Jawsfests. But when I try to explain to people that sharks are in trouble, that they are important and that we are losing them by the second, people just don't seem to care. Or they say they do, but their heart isn't really there. Or worse - they're happy to hear it.

I don't know what to say or do to get people to listen. How do you fight for an animal that no one wants to save? People see images like the one on the right and they're glad to see it. That just sickens me.

Anyways, the reason I bring this up now is that an estimate of Great White populations has come out at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in San Diego, based on research tracking more than 150 Great Whites done by Barbara Block. In 2000, Great Whites were listed at Vulnerable by the IUCN, though no one knew how many there were. The researchers from Stanford found that while these sharks were sighted quite frequently between Hawaii and California, they were often the same sharks. This led them to look at the estimated size of the entire population, and what they found was sobering. There are only an estimated 3,500 left.

The ever-cherished tigers, who have seen extinction looming for decades, are well over 5,000. Polar bears? 25,000 or so. And while upwards of 3,000 dolphins are killed in Taji every year, the worldwide population is huge. They're not even endangered.

I'm not saying that what happens in Taji isn't deplorable, or that tigers or polar bears don't deserve to be protected. My point is that we're on the verge of losing one of the most impressive species on the planet, and it seems like no one cares.

No, it's worse. Just by skimming the comments on one of the popular news articles about this you'll find statements like these:
"Good riddance. They eat people. No, we don't have to give them room to breathe. We don't have to do anything that's not to our advantage. I don't go for all this stuff about top predators being essential - obviously if there are as few Great Whites as all that, they cannot be very pivotal in the ecosystem. Eliminate them."

"If these stupid sharks can't adapt and evolve to the advances in industrial fishing over the past century then they ought to be made extinct."
You see, this is why I get so angry. People disgust me sometimes. And we say sharks are the heartless, ruthless predators? Please.


Rhi said...

I couldn't agree more with this post. It seems that people are fascinated with sharks, but only in the sense that they're frightening. Shark attacks get over-reported and are often accompanied by sanctioned shark killing sprees - even TV channels like Discovery don't seem to help. Lately, they're using the stereotype of "merciless killer" to gain viewership through fear. They always include the tagline "sharks are important, etc.etc." but it seems to get lost behind all the fear mongering.

Jason R said...

There are also disheartening rumors that Universal is considering a remake of Jaws. I hope they are not true.

Allie said...

I went and took a look at some of the comments.
This comment stuck out:
"Let's just wipe out the sharks, who needs them? Tigers, elephants, whales, dolphins, pandas, polar bears etc etc etc. Why do we let any animals coexist on our planet if we can profit from them today? It is truly madness.

Man is number one on the planet so we should destroy that which we can't use, use what we can quickly and grow consumption whatever the cost. Why else would nature have placed us at the top of the food chain?"

The fact that people feel like this is completely disheartening, and part of why we are in so much trouble today as a planet. I can't say if it is plain old ignorance, or a sense of entitlement and superiority, but I'm all for a Earth-haters relocation program....to Mars.

Jenny said...

Well written!
I also agree totally with this, people don't see the whole picture - and once extinct we can't get them back.
People say such ignorant things and it does say a lot more of them as people than what they are actually talking about.
Nature will find a way, man will get itself extinct.. geez.