Monday, July 2, 2012

Why Are We Teaching Kids to Kill Sharks?

My last blog highlighted a 12 year old boy that is speaking up on behalf of sharks; this blog is about encountering two different boys on the same day that were attempting to harass or kill a shark. We were able to stop one and actually get the whole group excited about sharks. It is amazing the impact that just five minutes of education can have.

On Sunday I was out boating with some friends just off West End Grand Bahama and we stopped at a small cay to enjoy the view and chat with some other boaters. Some guys were fishing in the flats and we really didn’t think anything of it. Our friend had mentioned that they see black tip sharks and nurse sharks out there, so we were hoping to get a glimpse. There were hound fish around, but not much else. We soon learned that they were catching hound fish to use for shark fishing bait. As this conversation started, Duncan and I were standing out in the water enjoying a good wallow and avoiding the army of mosquitoes. I was thrilled to overhear my friend, now an avid shark advocate and one of my dive students, explain why they should not be catching sharks. He was polite and informative. Duncan and I looked at each other and smiled.

The guy fishing pitched the bait into the water and said we might want to get out. We explained that we are those people that go into the water when someone yells, “shark.” He laughed. We grabbed some of the pieces and started breaking them up, trying to attract in some sharky friends. Within five minutes a good size black tip shark cruised in. The whole group got excited and seemed surprised that were trying to get it closer to us. We watched the shark for about fifteen minutes and then headed to shore. The fisherman explained that he thought sharks were really cool and asked why we loved them so much. I was a little confused, but expressed my love and passion for the ocean. This launched a great conversation with him and his fifteen year old son about sharks, shark diving and filming. The boy asked a lot of great questions and said he was thinking about being a marine biologist, but didn’t want to be stuck in a lab. His dad also said that he had once dreamed of being a marine biologist. You may not be a marine biologist, but anyone can be a shark and ocean advocate. I am hoping that we added a few recruits to the army.

The other kid we encountered was via the Internet and was actually fishing for sharks off the dock of a massive marina on the north island of Bimini; a Shark Free Marina I might add. The photos showed four or five adults around the boy as he hooked an adult lemon and reeled it in. I was so angry when I saw the images. Why put signs up? Why get involved if you do not care to educate the people that are in violation? I have no idea whether they killed the shark or released it, but this action should never have gotten to this point. Why harass animals, whether it is banned or not. What are you proving? What are you teaching your son? Is he a man because he can drag a shark onto the dock? Is he tough? Is he cool? What is the purpose? It is also frustrating that this marina is not upholding the commitment that it publically announced.

As an ambassador and a regional board member for the Shark Free Marina Initiative, I have done a lot of outreach and work in the Bahamas. I have seen first hand the disgusting act of sharks being strung up on the dock. I have witnessed fishermen catching sharks from the docks, only to drag them up and torture them. For some reason throwing a bunch of fish scraps in the water, luring in sharks and then dragging them on the dock to cut out their jaws, is entertaining.

Being a shark free is amazing, but only if you actually enforce it. The staff members at The Bimini Sands Resort and Marina and Old Bahama Bay are very diligent about upholding the commitment and explaining it to those in violation. There is a sense of pride in respecting the ocean environment that surrounds them. There may still be fear and misunderstanding, but the staff members are excited to be apart of something that matters. They are helping to take care of the beautiful ocean that surrounds the islands of the Bahamas.

This group probably did not go visit the Sharklab and learn about the mangroves and why this area is so crucial for the sharks. Maybe if that boy had gotten to touch a juvenile lemon shark he would not have wanted to drag one onto the dock. Maybe the adults wouldn’t have encouraged this unnecessary activity. Maybe if someone had been there to explain Shark Free Marinas, the whole group would have more respect for these animals. There are a lot of, “what ifs,” but education is powerful and we must keep pushing forward with that.

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