Dede's Green Scene: Save the Stars of Shark Week! by Dede Tabak, August 08 2011, 0 Comments

Duuuun dun…duuun dun….dun dun dun, what’s that in the water? It’s a shark! Ever since this theme was first heard in “Jaws”, people have been obsessed with sharks. People are either worried that they’ll encounter a shark at the beach, or they're glued to the TV during Discovery Channel's infamous “Shark Week”.

Although the stars of “Shark Week” are definitely the sharks themselves, some human stars are using their celebrity status to educate the masses about the grim future sharks face. It’s estimated that 100 million sharks are killed each year from commercial and recreational fishing. January Jones, the lead actress in "Mad Men", is working with Oceana, an international non-profit group that works towards ocean and ocean wildlife conservation, to educate the millions of viewers of Shark Week of the dark truth. The truth that if things don’t change – the only place one will be able to see sharks will be television. 

Sharks have been around for over 400 million years. There are 307 species of shark, but 50 of these are either endangered or dangerously close. The populations of Hammerhead sharks have declined 98 percent, with other species facing a similar fate. What people don't realize that sharks are vital to our marine ecosystem. They are apex predators, meaning top of the food chain. Therefore, they serve an important function in controlling the populations of their prey and diversifying the ocean.

So as sharks disappear, the population of their prey increase, throwing off the delicate balance of the ocean ecosystem. Oceana formed in 2001 after a study showed that less than 1 percent of environmental funds actually went to ocean and ocean wildlife conservation. They are working internationally to protect the shark population as they represent the greatest percentage of threatened marine life on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. This is the second year they’ve teamed up with the Discovery Channel to reach the viewers watching Shark Week. If even a small percentage are educated about this topic or donate money to the cause will make a difference. Oceana aired PSA announcements starring January Jones, which shows that instead of being scared of sharks, we should be scared for them.

Why are sharks in such danger? They are being over-fished, mostly due to their fins. In some cultures, shark fin soup is considered a delicacy. This consists of capturing sharks, cutting off their fins, and throwing them back into the ocean to die. On the black market, shark fins can go for as high as $300 per fin. Their meat is also coveted as well and is used as a sushi specialty in Japan and Australia. For years, shark fishing has not been regulated, and since it takes a shark years to reach sexual maturity, they don’t breed young as quickly as other harvested fish. Hence, the shark population has declined rapidly.

Celebrities are speaking out against this cruelty. Craig Ferguson, from the Late, Late Show, hosted Shark Week last year and starred in some PSA announcements. This year, Andy Sandburg was the Chief Shark Officer for Shark Week. Celebrities such as, Alec Baldwin, Elizabeth Berkley, Slash (from Guns & Roses), and Bill Mahr, spoke out for the Shark-Free Marina Initiative—an organization that challenges marinas to prohibit the landing of sharks. Their motto is “Reducing worldwide shark mortality, one marina at a time.” Edward Norton, the U.N. Environmental Ambassador, stood behind a California bill that would ban the sale, distribution or possession of shark fins. Norton says that his longtime diving expeditions have shown him the effects of overfishing sharks firsthand. Ted Danson recently came out with a book called "Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them" and also serves on the board of directors for Oceana.

Sharks may have a reputation for being “something dangerous in the water," but let’s make sure they don’t disappear from the water forever. The Shark Conservation Act, which prohibits the fishing of sharks for their fins in U.S. waters, was passed thanks to the hard work from Oceana. This past July, Chile passed a similar ban. Yet there is still more work that needs to be done. We may be reminded of the threat sharks face during "Shark Week," but we need to push for their survival year round. As Tracy Jordan says on the show 30 Rock, “live each week as if it was shark week!"