Born Free USA Blog
by Will Travers,
Chief Executive Officer
What can you say about a big-hearted bloke who has rescued dolphins, tigers, elephants and more and whose parents once helped a lion cub from a department store by caring for him in their backyard and engineering his rightful return to Africa? You can safely say that he's got great animal instincts! In 1984, Will Travers joined his parents — "Born Free" film stars Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers — to form what became The Born Free Foundation. With knowledge, passion and compassion dripping from his every word, Will's blogs are sure to make you embrace our crusade to Keep Wildlife in the Wild ®.
Now that Discovery Channel has wrapped up “Shark Week,” its infamous series on sharks, I’m left asking: Is Shark Week weak on conservation?
With seven days of shows, such as “Great White Serial Killer,” “Sharkpocalypse,” “Alien Shark,” and “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives,” there appears to be a dramatic lean toward demonizing this entire grouping of fish, and blithely ignoring the real issues facing sharks in the wild and in captivity.
More than one hundred million sharks are killed each year, some in barbaric “finning” operations. (Particularly affected species of shark include the Porbeagle, Whitetip, and Hammerhead.) Yet we are merely presented with little more than an unfair, overdramatized, and, quite frankly, silly series. Sadly, this once highly-regarded television network has missed a valuable opportunity to educate millions of Americans about the importance of sharks and their conservation.
As a vital part of the ocean ecosystem, sharks contribute to the survival of countless other species. Largely fulfilling its role as a keystone predator, sharks are the great balancer of marine ecosystems, regulating large-schooling and fast-breeding prey fish populations. However, due to a number of controversial issues, including longline fishing, gillnetting, and shark finning, sharks are indiscriminately slaughtered by the millions per year.
Above all, finning has catastrophically affected worldwide shark populations. This is the deplorable practice in which sharks are caught and dragged onto boat decks to have their dorsal fins chopped off. Still gasping for air, the sharks are thrown back into the ocean, sinking to the bottom, unable to swim. They then either bleed to death, or are predated upon by others.
It’s an unfortunate irony; if “Shark Week” wants drama, Discovery Channel should film finning operations, or e expose the public to the reality of shark fin soup consumption in Asia.
The life history of the shark is misunderstood. Discovery Channel has a real opportunity to stop feeding the demand for exploitative drama that breeds the hatred or indifference with which many people view sharks. As I discussed in a previous blog, Born Free USA has tracked the gruesome practice of shark finning for years. We are working around the world to strengthen state, federal, and international laws that protect these vital species. Let’s turn a one-week sensation into a year-long dialogue on how to save the majestic sharks of the world.