Yesterday, Delaware became the seventh state to prohibit the sale, trade, possession and distribution of shark fins within state borders. By signing House Bill 41, Gov. Jack Markell not only made Delaware the second East Coast state to ban the shark fin trade, but he sent the message that sharks are worth more in the oceans than in a bowl of shark fin soup.
We can breathe a momentary sigh of relief. This Monday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously to maintain protections off California and Oregon for the critically endangered population of Pacific leatherback sea turtles. However, in 2014 these federal fishery managers will consider another proposal for allowing driftnets into sea turtle habitat southwest of Monterey, California.
At the meeting a few days ago in Tacoma, Washington, the Council considered a full array of proposals to expand the use of drift gillnets off California and Oregon and into an area currently designated to protect Pacific leatherback sea turtles. But Oceana—with the help of our partners, and support of our avid Wavemakers—successfully thwarted those efforts by presenting new science on the decline of leatherback sea turtles; by revealing scientific data showing massive wasteful bycatch of large whales, dolphins, sharks, and other fish by the drift gillnet fishery; and by bringing forward the public uproar over the proposed expansion of the driftnet fishery into a currently protected area.
Mile-long drift nets hang like invisible curtains in the water column to catch swordfish, but they unselectively entangle other marine life traversing through the open ocean. To numerically paint the portrait of this wasteful fishery, for every five swordfish caught in 2011, one marine mammal was killed and six fish were tossed back dead. When it comes to whales, this fishery takes many species, but one of particular concern is the sperm whale. The largest of the toothed whales, sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal and it is estimated that 16 of these amazing endangered whales were taken in the drift gillnet fishery in 2010 alone.
While we’re going to file this under the “don’t try this at home” category, a promotional video for the GoPro underwater camera showing a free diver from Hawaii swimming with a great white shark is bringing immense amounts of attention to this majestic predator, and encouraging many to rethink the great white’s fearsome “Jaws” reputation.
The video, entitled “A Blonde and a Great White Shark” shows diver Ocean Ramsey (yes, you read that right) approaching a great white shark and stroking the shark’s back before gently holding its dorsal fin while it swims through clear azure waters. With more than half a million views, the video, appropriately released on Valentine’s Day, shows that the great white shark as a magnificent ocean creature to be respected, loved, and protected, rather than a deadly man-eater to be feared. Ramsey’s website, www.waterinspired.com, quotes the Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum: “ ‘In the end people will only protect what they love, and only love what they understand . . .’ I hope that by sharing my experiences with sharks I might inspire others to take action and help protect these amazing creatures before it's too late,” Ramsey writes.
As 2013 rapidly approaches, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past year at Oceana. Thanks to your support, we were able to achieve more than a dozen major victories for the oceans! You signed petitions to lawmakers and companies, submitted seafood samples and participated in rallies and events, and it made a difference. Here are five of the major victories we won in 2012 as a result:
1. Alibaba.com stops selling manta ray products
When Oceana discovered that the online international marketplace Alibaba.com was selling manta ray products, we asked for your help in stopping it. Nearly 40,000 of you responded by signing our petition, and Alibaba listened, removing manta ray leather products from the website.
2. Victories for the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle
2012 was a good year for endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles. We helped establish the first permanent safe haven for leatherbacks in continental U.S. waters this year. The government designated nearly 42,000 square miles of critical habitat off the West Coast. The Pacific leatherback was also designated as California’s official state reptile following a bill sponsored and supported by Oceana with the support of thousands of California citizens and more than 30 conservation groups.
With as many as a third of all shark species in the world facing some threat of extinction, the future of sharks has been in peril for some time now. This month, however, French Polynesia and the Cook Islands have taken a stand for sharks, creating adjacent shark sanctuaries covering 2.5 million square miles of ocean – an area nearly equal to the continent of Australia! With this move, French Polynesia and the Cook Islands join Palau, the Maldives, Honduras, the Bahamas, the Marshall Islands, and Tokelau as countries that have created shark sanctuaries, more than doubling the area worldwide now off-limits to shark fishing. This largest sanctuary in the world also bans the possession, sale, or trade of shark products within its boundaries.
On December 6, French Polynesia created the world’s largest shark sanctuary at 1.5 million square miles, and the neighboring nation of the Cook Islands followed suit on December 19 with its designation of its entire exclusive economic zone – an area equal to the size of Mexico at 756,000 square miles -- as dedicated shark sanctuary waters. “We are proud as Cook Islanders to provide our entire exclusive economic zone…as a shark sanctuary,” Teina Bishop, Cook Island minister of marine resources told BBC News.
The health benefits of seafood are well-documented, but some people avoid eating it after hearing reports of high mercury levels. This video might help make things a little clearer.
Produced by the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program, the video explains how mercury gets into water and then into the fish that we eat. Burning coal releases mercury into the air and increases its concentrations in our waterways. Depending on where in the food chain a fish is, it could have low levels of mercury or high levels that could be unhealthy.
Eating seafood has many health benefits—it has important Omega 3 fatty acids and is low in the saturated fats you find in other animal proteins, especially red meat. Many fish are safe and healthy to eat. While shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and tuna have higher mercury levels, there are plenty of other options that are safe to eat. You can find responsible and healthy seafood choices in our Sustainable Seafood Guide.
Check out the video, which also features Oceana senior scientist Kim Warner, to learn more about how mercury builds up in the environment and how to stay healthy while including seafood in your diet.
Fans of sharks have undoubtedly noticed that protections for the oceans' great predators have really ramped up in the last couple of years - and now the New York Times has taken notice, too.
Reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal quoted Oceana's very own Elizabeth Wilson in yesterday's article about the proliferation of shark finning and trade bans. In the last year, the West Coast has neared a total ban on finning and trade, and the U.S. and Chile have passed national bans on finning. Oceana has been an integral part of advocating for shark protections, as tens of millions of sharks, including some rare and endangered species, are killed each year for their fins.
As Elizabeth said in the Times: "We're really enthusiastic to see good things finally starting to happen for sharks."
And we're thrilled by all the Oceana Wavemakers who joined us in the fight to save sharks. There's still time to help: If you're a California resident, you can call Gov. Jerry Brown to encourage him to sign the shark fin ban, AB 376, that was passed by the state Senate last week into law at 916-445-2841. Call by Oct. 9, which is the deadline for it to be passed. The sharks thank you!
Last year, the support of our members helped us win major victories all over the world. We helped score a ban on trawling in Belize's waters, blocked a coal burning power plant in Chile, and helped win the passage of the Shark Conservation Act in the US. But we still have work to do and we need your help!
Donate $35 by February 28 and you'll get our reusable water bottle, which helps cut down on single use plastic pollution. Donate $100 or more and you'll also get one year of our quarterly printed magazine, full of info about our work all over the world, interviews with our celebrity supporters, tips on sustainable seafood, and more!
2010 was a year full of successes for us, thanks to the support of all our members. Join us in 2011 and help make it an even bigger year for ocean conservation.