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Oceana Magazine Spring 2009: January Jones Stands Up for Sharks

January Jones is the new spokesperson for Oceana's campaign to save sharks. Jones is the lead actress in the critically acclaimed series, "Mad Men," where she plays Betty Draper, the wife of adman Don Draper. "Mad Men" has won Emmy and Golden Globe awards, and Jones was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2009 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series.

Jones recently traveled with Oceana to the Bahamas, where she participated in shark research at the Bimini Biological Field Station. Jones will also appear in an Oceana public service announcement campaign and help Oceana's campaigners speak to policymakers and the press about the need to protect sharks. She recently talked to Oceana about her trip to Bimini, her interest in sharks and her strong desire to protect them.

How did you get interested in sharks?

I have been entranced by sharks ever since I can remember. I thought they were magical and mysterious, but I also had a very healthy respect for them and found myself a little wary about swimming in the ocean, and hated that about myself. So I've just found out all I possibly could about them, whether it be reading about them or watching documentaries about them. The more I learned the more I loved them and the story they have to tell.

What led you to work with Oceana and its shark conservation campaign?

I had been wanting to start a charity involving sharks for ages but didn't have the contacts or the know-how. When I heard about Oceana and the work they do I thought it was a perfect match for me. It's an amazing organization with amazing contacts, scientists and supporters - a truly inspired and motivated group of people. I was so ecstatic to be a face for Oceana's shark campaign and try to really make a difference for them.

What is your favorite shark?

The great white shark! The sheer power and beauty of the white shark is amazing and I can't wait to see one up close and personal.

Why did you want to dive with sharks?

A couple of different reasons. First of all, I wanted the visual image of myself in the water with sharks to show the world that they aren't the "man eaters" they are sometimes made out to be. I also, selfishly, wanted to experience the thrill of swimming alongside a creature I've loved for so long. It was really a dream come true.

Were you nervous before diving? Excited?

It was a mixture of both. I was nervous that I would somehow mess up or disappoint the actual experts that were with us. I wanted to be professional but it was my first time in the water with sharks so naturally I was feeling a big adrenaline rush!

You helped out as the shark researchers tagged nurse and lemon sharks. What was it like to hold a baby shark?

It was incredible to interact with the juvenile sharks. They were so perfect and cute! Yes, cute! The nurse sharks were definitely more grumpy about being held. They were like little tanks. But the lemon sharks were really fine with being touched and flipped on their back into tonic hypnosis. It was so neat to be able to set a couple of them back into the wild after weighing and tagging.

Did the dive change your perception of sharks?

My perception is the same but after interacting with them at such close proximity I believe now, more than ever, that sharks carry a stigma with them that is so unnecessary. I am more dedicated than ever to the preservation of all shark species.

Should people be scared of sharks?

I think that like any other wild animal, we should respect them and their environment. But they have evolved for 400 million years and have two more senses than we have, so I think they make very few mistakes and the statistics have shown that even when we are in their environment shark bites are extremely rare.

What would you like people to do to help save sharks?

I think spreading the word about the negative effects of finning is crucial. This ritual that's turned into a trend is ruining the most important ecosystem in our world. And checking with your favorite cosmetic companies to make sure there aren't any shark oils in their products is important. Also, a letter or email to your congressman could be very helpful.

What's scarier: the "sharks" of Madison Avenue, or the sharks you saw today?

I think the "sharks of Hollywood" are the scariest!


Oceana's Global Shark Campaign

Shark populations worldwide face severe threats from overfishing. The fishing industry kills tens of millions of sharks annually for their fins, often by shark finning, the gruesome practice of slicing the fins off and then throwing the shark overboard to die. The fins are used to make the Asian delicacy shark fin soup. Major declines in shark populations have occurred in recent years, with some populations now depleted by over 90 percent in just the past few decades.

Oceana is hard at work in Europe and United States to protect sharks. In Europe, Oceana secured a commitment earlier this year from the government of Spain, one of the world's largest shark fishing nations, to advance national legislation that would better manage shark fisheries and explore options for improving finning prohibitions.

In the United States, Oceana has promoted the passage of a shark conservation act that would close loopholes that facilitate shark finning and establish the U.S. as a global leader in shark protection. The House of Representatives passed the Shark Conservation Act of 2009 in March, and Oceana hopes the Senate will do the same in the near future.