By: Alexandra Riggle
The presenter declares to a group of students, “Sharks are bad, right?” The class nods in agreement. Of course they’re bad- everyone knows that sharks are ruthless, indiscriminate killers-- the media tells us so. Such was the reaction among a group of post-doctoral English language students at UCLA last week.
But a very different viewpoint emerged among the group by the end of the presentation…
Patty Civalleri, Iemanya’s Executive Vice President and marketing mastermind, capitalized on a perfect opportunity to spread awareness about the importance of sharks and the single largest threat they face: shark fin soup. Patty’s friend and university professor, Dale Hartnett, teaches English as a second language at UCLA and develops her lesson plans around such practical activities as getting around the city, visiting a museum, or buying items at a grocery store. Out of sheer coincidence Dale had been planning a lesson last week about, of all things, soup- all of the varieties, shopping for ingredients, preparation, etc. Lessons like these help the students learn practical, every day, English. Upon learning about the professor’s lesson topic, Patty seized the opportunity to not only educate the students about the destructiveness of shark fin soup to shark populations worldwide, but to gauge how many of the students were aware of the current situation facing sharks.
The results of this pseudo-sociological experiment were eye-opening.
Most of the students were of Asian descent, a demographic among which shark fin soup has long been traditionally consumed. When asked how many had ever consumed shark fin soup, about 50% of the students raised their hands. When asked how well they liked shark fin soup, the responses varied, from “It was ok,” to, “What a delicious dish!” Patty then kicked off her presentation by talking about food chains and ecosystem balance. She explained that when apex predators like sharks are removed from an ecosystem, the entire food chain beneath it is disrupted, often with disastrous consequences. She explained that 100 million sharks are killed annually, tens of millions for their fins alone.
Patty saw a clear progression in attitude among the students from one of apathy toward sharks to one of genuine concern. One student cried upon the learning about the plight of sharks. By the end of the presentation, the students were hungry to know what they could do to help sharks, and when asked how many would refuse to eat shark fin soup again, almost all of the students raised their hands!
Patty provided these newly enlightened students with plenty of activities to help save sharks, including writing to their government representative to institute a ban on shark finning and shark fin sales, and spreading the important message to family and friends about the destructiveness of shark fin soup. As this group proved, the public is still largely unaware of the threats sharks face and how critically important they are to healthy oceans.
Although Patty’s audience was small, her efforts are crucial in helping to propel a shift in mindset among the public about sharks. And, as cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead so famously quoted: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
Hollywood and the general media’s depiction of sharks over the past several decades has made people turn away when the topic of shark extinction is broached. General fear and apathy for one of the most important creatures on Earth continues to create rooting sections for a blood-starved public appetite that would like to see ‘those dangerous creatures’ annihilated.
Since author Peter Benchley released his famous movie “Jaws” (1975), the public has eaten up all stories, movies, documentaries and headlines that depict sharks as blood-thirsty avengers who are single-mindedly hell-bent on consuming those poor innocent bikini-clad beach goers.
The Discovery Channel has glommed onto the ratings-grabbing nature of sharks and have discovered that educating people about sharks wasn’t ratings-grabbing enough. In their zest to educate the public as to the gnarly toothy bloody results that can happen if you film them correctly, they have all but forgotten the value of the rest of the education: the non-toothy, non-gnarly, non-blood-rendering sharks and the real purpose that they actually serve on our planet – beside simply eating people.
I have worked for many clients and have helped to promote many products and services. I love what I do, because I get to get personally involved with each company, product and service. I love making them 'my own' and taking personal ownership of sales, marketing and promotion. That's what I do. I sell stuff. I promo stuff.
I thought I knew what it meant to get personal with a product... until I went Shark Tagging with Iemanya Oceanica. Talk about up close and personal!
By Alexandra Riggle
The first time I saw an image of a snorkeler in the water with a whale shark I gasped in awe of the shark’s beauty and sheer immensity. Now, having been in the water with these magnificent creatures I can personally describe the experience as nothing less than magical.
A group of public participants along with several Iemanya staff members (myself included) and several film crews were fortunate enough to witness and assist the world’s leading expert on whale sharks, Dr. Rachel Graham and Mexico’s top shark expert, Dr. Oscar Sosa. The tagging took place in picturesque Bahia de Los Angeles, a small fishing community on the Sea of Cortez in Baja California. We were out on the water for three days during which Rachel and her team tagged three whale sharks- two males and a female that have yet to be named. The satellite tags will provide invaluable data, which will help the researchers understand critical information about whale shark migration, feeding behavior and perhaps even where they breed and calve.
Some of the sharks we encountered were shy and evasive, while others were playfully curious circling groups of snorkelers for 10, 20 or even 30 minutes. Looking into the eyes of these docile creatures is truly a remarkable experience- they are clearly aware of your presence and yet clearly have no intention of causing harm. Nevertheless, seeing a whale shark approaching you head-on is a humbling and exhilarating experience! Two fortunate groups of snorkelers saw not one but two whale sharks swimming in alignment, while others witnessed a shark suspended vertically in the water, mouth agape taking in plankton-rich water.
My passion and commitment to protect our oceans is stronger than ever after my experiences in Baja, for which I will be forever grateful. Whale sharks, like so many animals on the planet are vulnerable because of human activities- from overfishing to ocean pollution- and I am proud to be a part of the commitment to protect these remarkable creatures and ensure they thrive for millennia to come.
Adopting a Shark is a fun and unique way to get involved in shark and ray conservation. AdoptaShark is an excellent program for adults and kids because everybody learns A LOT about sharks and the oceans. When you adopt a shark, your donation is contributing towards the purchase of new tags for continued research on the movement and behavior of sharks. You will learn about and be able to see tracking maps of your shark, depending on when and how the shark was tagged. As we learn new information about your shark, we will pass it on to you via our website. The shark's tracks depend on the type of tags used to track them, so for example, if your shark was tagged with accoustic tags, the track might only show a few days of movement. Satellite track, however, can show movement of your shark for 3-6 months. Once the tag comes off your shark, we/you will no longer recieve new tracking information for that shark. Even so, you will still be able to study the maps that were generated when the tags were 'live' and in no time, you will be a virtual expert on your shark.
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