If I wasn’t spending my days studying amphibian and reptiles, I would have probably have chosen sharks instead. They too, like snakes and spiders, have an image problem – although once you understand them, they’re not all that scary. Sharks are an important part of many oceanic food webs, acting as the apex predators which is probably why they strike fear in the hearts of many. They haven’t had an easy time in the past few decades, the film Jaws vilified them further and a growing trend for shark fin soup has seen their numbers plummet. Despite all of this, there are a number of people out there have recognised the importance of sharks and the need for their conservation.
Shark: Travels through a Hidden World by Juliet Eilperin tackles a number of these problems and some that I had never even considered. The opening chapter documents our changing relationship with the oceans, visiting the people of Tembin, Mesi and Kontu in Papua New Guinea where they still practise shark calling. This is a spiritual practise due to the fact that sharks are an integral part of their creation story, the townspeople call on the strength of their ancestors to catch sharks. Unfortunately, they are coming up short time and time again due to foreign vessels catching sharks in the waters off of Papua New Guinea. Shark calling is a dying art form and the overfishing of sharks isn’t helping things.
Another aspect of shark conservation that I hadn’t thought of before, was the illegal trade. I’m very much aware of how much some people want various reptiles and amphibians, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to know the same is also true for some shark species. It isn’t all doom and gloom though. Conservationists across the globe are working together to track shark movements and aid their population in recovering. They aren’t the animals we need to fear, there were only 13 shark related fatalities last year whilst millions of sharks worldwide were slaughtered for their fins. These are animals that deserve our attention, not our fear. Eilperin does a great job of illuminating a complex topic and providing and important voice for sharks.
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