Tuesday, August 05, 2008

shark reflections

Copyright (c) 2008 Wendee Holtcamp
Richard gives a whitetip reef shark some water which flows over its gills and helps it breathe out of water.

This is a blog entry that I wrote as the last entry but they ended up just ending on the previous day's so I thought I'd post it here. I just found this, and thought it was an interesting summary and reflection on the trip back in April.

And for those who watched the show, I am in it in several places- way in the background but I'm there! I am the only blonde on the boat so if you see blonde hair, that's me. I am in one scene wearing a black sarong and a hoodie carrying an extension cord. I walked into the scene when they were filming - oops!

I'm in L.A. and arrived without a hitch. Hanging out with Paige today and tomorrow.


I have seen a lot of wildlife around the world in my writing career, but the experience of scuba diving with sharks – scuba diving with sharks for goodness sake – was truly one of my life’s best. I had the opportunity to see these magnificent, graceful, agile, sleek, sensual animals, more ancient than the dinosaurs, swimming through the azure ocean completely in their element. Wow.

It amazes me that so many people have such fear of these creatures, animals that showed absolutely no interest in me as I spent time in their underwater world. I did not register in their minds as something to eat or attack. I was just another part of the underwater furniture.

I watched the movie Nim’s Island with my kids today, and after watching a scene with three sharks circling around a boat, I thought to myself, ‘That is why people have such fear of sharks.’ Misconceptions about “man-eating” sharks get perpetuated by Hollywood, by news reports of shark attacks, and maybe even by our own instinctual fears. Yes, sharks can be dangerous, as Mike can attest, but why such drastic disconnect between the reality of swimming at arm’s length from these agile creatures and the utter terror expressed by so many people?

I wish people had less fear and more awe for sharks. I wish more people revered sharks and wished to protect rather than to destroy their lives for short-term economic gain. Shark fins sell for around $40 per fin in a Hong Kong market , and upwards of 29,000 can end up on a single boat. The amount of money to be made from shark finning makes it well worth the risk of accidentally taking the wrong species (some of which are protected under international agreements such as CITES), which happens frequently according to researchers at the Guy Harvey Institute.

Unfortunately, of the 400 species of shark, few receive any sort of global protection at all. For most species, so little is known that it’s simply impossible to say whether the populations are stable, declining, or critically imperiled.
Scientists have no way to accurately census sharks, so the best estimates come from mortality data. Up to 73 million sharks get finned per year, and certainly many more go undetected. We do know sharks reproduce slowly, most having only one to two offspring per season. That means it takes a long time for a depleted population to recover. Scientists have no idea what would happen to oceanic ecosystems if these top predators disappeared, but the effects would surely ripple throughout the marine web.

Every person - and every generation - should have the opportunity to swim with sharks as I did. Unfortunately, that won’t happen if their habitat, including Osprey Reef, remains unprotected. Conserving Osprey Reef, along with other isolated reefs in the Coral Sea, has been a long-time passion of JR’s. Much of what will be seen in Expedition Shark hailed from the pipe dreams of this man. He came to Australia from the U.S. many years ago, but quickly achieved success interweaving business with conservation. He is the person who first introduced Richard to Osprey Reef, and also to Raine Island where the crew filmed tiger sharks feeding on green turtles (and no, Ian, sea turtles are not just hamburgers-with-flippers, despite what Richard may say). It was JR’s dream to set up a monitoring system around Osprey Reef to find out more about how sharks and other marine creatures use the habitat. And now, through the Expedition Shark documentary, these sharks, these reef ecosystems, and these scientific endeavors will receive an international audience. JR should rightly be a happy man. And he is, but I also know from talking with him and the others that the work remains far from complete.

A lifetime of research lies ahead, and yet more urgent is the need for science-based conservation of sharks and any currently unprotected reef habitat. Agreements between fisheries organizations and tourist operators are highly commendable, but ultimately can change in an instant without any formal governmental protections. Osprey Reef has suffered abrupt coral bleaching and coral death, particularly notable in its central lagoon, but its beauty, biodiversity and brilliance stands out like a gem among gems among Australia’s reefs.

Expedition Shark wouldn’t have happened without the hard work and bright personalities involved. Richard’s zany sense of humor adds a lot of fun to the film. Mike has a smile that lights up a room, not to mention the wealth of knowledge he has and his incredible bravery working with sharks despite admitting he still has some fear every time he swims with them. Sanjayan adds his fun personality to the mix, and entertains with his perspective as a terrestrial ecologist. Celine brings a conservation ethic as well as an always bright smile to every scene. And those crew members who stay mostly behind the cameras have contributed every bit as much as those in front. The past several months have been a whirlwind of filming, and the producers and editors are busy in the cutting room, getting the show into final form. This has been an incredible opportunity to bring awareness of the plight of sharks and the groundbreaking research being done at Osprey Reef to the world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello...well, we searched our cable service and it doesn't look like it will be shown again any time soon. DANG it! So sorry we missed it!
I can't believe we missed "Shark Week"! We rarely watch "normal" t.v. anymore.
Have a safe and happy trip!
K and M in AK