Saturday, September 26, 2009

Be a Shark Friendly Consumer... Help Protect Sharks When You Buy

Many people assume that because they don’t eat shark fin soup – then they can’t possibly be contributing to the demise of the sharks. And while shark fin soup does account for a considerable amount of shark consumption, there are many other culprits. It isn’t just something that can be blamed on a single culture or country.

Often, I find many people surprised – including myself – to discover what shark is actually used in. And it isn’t always the usual, easy to identify products, say with the word shark in the product name, like shark steaks, shark teeth or shark leather. Certain energy drinks, pet supplements, vaccines, vitamins, lotions, and even lipstick are all known to contain shark products.

One quite underhanded technique, restaurants often employ is masking the use of shark by changing the name. Take for instance, the poor, little Spiny Dogfish Shark. Not a well-known, charismatic shark so it remains in the shadows of its sexy cousins: the tigers, bulls, and hammerheads. But, the Spiny Dogfish Sharks’ population is plummeting worldwide – so badly that it is considered commercially extinct in certain areas. And this relatively unknown sharks was one of two (or three if you run with the folks that put the sawfish in this group) being considered last year for addition to the CITES Appendix that currently protects only white, whale and basking sharks from international trade.

Who would eat this shark? Well, if you live in the UK, maybe you or someone you know. How is that possible? Because these sharks have been re-labeled in the UK to a more, well, appealing term: Rock Salmon. Mmmm… Sounds far more tasty to those who eat fish, no?

Indeed, the majority of the fish & chip shops that so many Brits know and love commonly have Rock Salmon on the menu. And even if it isn’t on the menu, a simple enquiry will lead you to discover it is often available by request or even featured as a special. That’s why many of us in shark conservation have stopped frequenting these places. We would never support a restaurant or store that sold shark – even if the chips are the best thing we have ever tasted.

That is why we were thrilled to find a fish & chips shop in Windsor on our Shark Awareness week visit that was indeed shark friendly. (And of course it would have to be – since Windsor is the first town ever to be shark friendly.) No rock salmon sold here! Good for you, Ronnie Shaw.

For some of us, like Steve Roest, CEO of Sea Shepherd, it was the first batch of chips enjoyed in a long, long while. And for some of us, it was a first – and I must say, with the malt vinegar, I think I was pretty much eating little slices of heaven – that was until I couldn’t stand watching Steve drool as I enjoyed them, having scarfed his own down too quickly. Surprisingly, he turned down the offer for “seconds”, but only because it was actually “fourths” considering he had managed to weasel half of both Kim and my chips as well.

The moral of this story, besides of course exercising some control when consuming chips with others lest they out you on Facebook to the world, is to always be an aware, informed consumer. Know what is in that “pollock” you are eating in the form of crab sticks or fish cakes (possibly shark). Don’t take or drink any supplements with “Chondroitin“ - derived from shark cartilage - in them. Never use any cosmetic products (including makeup, lotions and deodorants) that contain Squalene which is shark liver oil – in fact just buy the animal-friendly variety. No matter how cute those shark’s tooth earrings are, or the shark leather wallet, don’t buy them. And under no circumstances order the Rock Salmon, let alone eat at a restaurant that serves it. In fact, if you are really serious about protecting sharks, since over ½ of that 100,000,000 sharks caught yearly are caught as by-catch, only eat sustainably caught seafood, or, preferably, do like I do and just refrain from eating anything from the sea. That way you can be sure you are doing your part.

To enjoy Shark Friendly chips when in Windsor, visit: Ronnie Shaw's Great British Fish & Chips on Thames Road right across from the castle. Tell Ronnie we sent you!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sharks Board doing its civil duty to destroy the planet... More white sharks killed

And the killing continues...

Sharks Board caught a 4.2 meter white shark (almost 1 ton) on a drumline three days ago in Zinkwazi and a 2.8 meter white shark yesterday.

Both sharks are protected in South Africa - and world wide - and on the IUCN red list. Apparently there is much controversy around how KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board caught the sharks as usual (reportedly they released the first shark from a drumline - which is highly unlikely since the mortality rate of whites on drumlines is incredibly high), but the pictures speak for themselves and are particularly haunting. And of course, those who love the Jaws stereotype are all a flutter spreading the news.

Those of us who care about sharks and care about their conservation (or just care about this planet) need to take the effort up a notch. Especially now that the South Africa tourism department in a genius marketing ploy is encouraging people to come to South Africa to see their unique "big seven" (the only African nation to offer this) which in addition to the usual terrestrial animals includes whales and sharks now. Ironically, KZN Sharks Board reports to the same minister of tourism as well... So, which is it Minister, you want them dead for tourists or alive for tourists??? Pathetic.

Please get involved at

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Nice Response Humana... I am definitely relieved now.

After writing an email 5 days ago to Humana, horrified they had recommended the millions of people that attend Taste of Chicago should east shark if they want to make a "healthier choice" (though the consumption of shark carries warnings from the EPA, FDA and World Health Organization), I finally received a response.

I received an email back from their PR today department thanking me for my "interest in the matter". It is reassuring to know "they are taking my thoughts on this matter into consideration." Silently, an asterisk appeared on their online literature indicating the "healthier choice" shark entree was not advisable for consumption by pregnant women and children - though if you attend the Taste, you certainly won't know this and the dish still remains on their list of recommendations and the material that was printed before the warning. A silent admission of guilt.

(Revised Humana literature available online.)

How is this healthy? The Department of Health in New York City and in the State of Florida recommend not consuming shark. So why is it ok for Chicagoans, Humana? And haven't we learned our lesson witnessing China struggle with its milk contamination? I guess saving face is just as important in US Corporations as well. Best start looking out for your own health - because your health care company certainly isn't.

(Revised Humana site.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Humana wants you to eat a nice healthy... shark steak

Today, I am embarrassed to call myself a Chicagoan.

Just when you thought people were catching on to the issues with eating shark, we were shocked to learn that a supposed leader in health care known for enabling people to make well-informed decisions regarding their health and healthy lifestyles is recommending the consumption of shark – in a very public format. Yes, you heard that right. Humana - a HEALTH CARE organization - has decided to promote shark meat as one of the "healthier choice" entrees featured at the Taste of Chicago festival. The dish, Shark Vera Cruz, is being served by Polo Café, and owner Dave Samber, to the millions of individuals attending the two-week festival who may choose to take Humana up on their incredibly irresponsible and erroneous recommendation.

Humana has effectively provided a seal of approval for a “dish” that carries warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Environmental Defense Fund, Seafood Watch, and the New York Department of Health, to name but a few highly respected organizations. I guess Humana is saying you can cut the calories and pile on the Mercury?

Indeed, there is much research and publicly available data regarding the serious issues associated with consumption of shark meat due to the health risks posed by the high levels of mercury and other contaminants found in the shark’s flesh. Mercury that is known to cause significant health issues for pregnant women and children. Humana, what were you thinking?

In addition to the risks posed by consuming sharks personally, it is hard to believe they can ignore the significant health risks posed to our planet. Sharks around the world are threatened with extinction due to overfishing. Studies out this week indicate conservatively that a 1/3 of shark species are threatened with extinction. With populations of many shark species down by as much as 90%, this news couldn’t have come at a worse time. Humana, what were you thinking?

How can Humana, a supposed environmental leader, not realize as the apex predators of the oceans, the role of sharks is to keep other marine life in healthy balance and to regulate the world’s largest and most important ecosystem? Instead, they are supporting the continued consumption and removal of sharks from the very environment upon which we depend – wreaking havoc on our planet. Those of us who read are well aware that regional elimination of sharks can cause disastrous effects including the collapse of fisheries and the death of coral reefs. Humana, what were you thinking?

We have notified Humana and have made them aware of the situation. Educated and enlightened, Humana should immediately rescind its recommendation and MORE IMPORTANTLY issue a retracting statement to all media outlets the recommendations were promoted to (which sadly are quite extensive). The damage that has been done needs to be undone immediately. Additionally, the recommendation should be withdrawn from the literature at the Taste of Chicago booth, and instead, women and children should be properly warned about the dangers of consuming sharks – consistent with the recommendations of the EPA and the FDA.

Please appeal to Humana, the City of Chicago, and Polo Café, as we have, to stop supporting tthe consumption of shark meat: for our, and our planet's, health. And please copy all of the media outlets that have carried the story. You can make phone calls or send emails to the following individuals:

Polo Café:
Dave Samber - Owner
+1 (773) 927-POLO

Jim Turner - Manager, Corporate Media Relations
+1 (502) 476-2119

City of Chicago, Mayor's Office of Special Events (MOSE)
Megan McDonald, Executive Director
Mayor's Office of Special Events
121 N. LaSalle Street, Room 806
Chicago, IL 60602

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Holista Shark Cartilage Pills are no more!

Congratulations to Shark Angel Kim and all of Sea Shepherd's hard efforts to persuade Holista to cease all production of Shark Cartilage Products. This is a huge win for sharks!


Monday, April 27, 2009

Scoring a Try for Sharks

(Julie with The Crusaders post-dive. Photo by Mark Addison.)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to accompany a very special team of individuals when they encountered sharks for the first time. And, the results similar to so many before them, for this shark conservationist, were inspiring. And reminded me again why this fight is so worth fighting.

While still in Durban last week, I joined New Zealand’s Rugby team, the Crusaders, many of whom are also All Blacks, on their first dive with the sharks of Shark Park. I have got to hand it to the guys – they endured some of the worst conditions I have ever dove in. The seas were so rough that it took almost 20 minutes to launch! And after a harrowing ride out to the dive site, all of the big, tough guys were looking, well not so tough and rather green – and not just because they were a bit nervous.

But, they jumped in and in a heartbeat, shifted their perspectives. Entering into a sea of blacktips, they eagerly pointed them out to one another as they swam amongst them. It wasn’t long before our first tiger, a girl I call Smiley in memory of my brother’s adopted greyhound who also had a permanent grin on her face, showed up. In true Smiley form, she swam towards us on the surface, quite inquisitive and quite close. Between her unnerving grin delivered what some might call way too close for comfort, and the brutal seas which resulted in everyone hurling including myself, it was a day not to be forgotten!

(Bronson swims with his new-found friend Smiley. Photo by Mark Addison.)

When we got back to Blue Wilderness, the guys were incredibly charged up and quite passionate about their experience, embarrassed that perhaps they too had once fallen for the “Jaws” myth. But when it came time to do my ten minute conservation briefing that I do at the end of most dives, as part of the diving conservation program we are rolling out, I figured there was no way I would keep these superstars’ attentions. Especially because lunch had been served.

But, just as Smiley’s behavior had startled them, theirs’ completely floored me. They stopped and gave me their full attention, hung on every word, asked dozens of educated questions and on that afternoon, became passionate shark conservationists.

After the presentation, Paul and I interviewed them on camera for a piece that was being aired here in South Africa and I couldn’t have been prouder of their genuine and educated perspective. Rugby player after rugby player recanted the sadness they felt with the realization that sharks are misunderstood and how tragic it is that it is that irrational fear, in some ways, leading to their demise. And each declared how they were personally going to change that. In fact, we are now working together with Blue Wilderness and the Crusaders to put together a powerful viral video on the experience that carries a strong conservation message that will be posted, amongst other places on their website.

It isn’t because they are famous, or heros to a whole legion of fans, that I was delighted to be in their presence. I am not the type to get star-struck and personally, given my complete American-based ignorance to the sport, that fame is wasted on me. But, the fact that they have decided to use that fame and reach people that most of us never could is why the Crusaders are now my heros too.

(The original Smiley. The similarities are haunting, no?)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Saving Sharks... through High School Students

(One of the blacktips we caught and tagged.)

A few months ago, I was reminded how important it is to work with our children, raising a new generation of conservationists to take over where we leave off in the hopes they can be more successful than we were. I have always enjoyed teaching kids about sharks, loving how open minded and thoughtful they are. But this time, I had an even greater joy - I was given the opportunity to watch some pretty inspiring people infect young adults with a passion for sharks… and science.

(The students participating in the SFSSP the day I joined them.)

I met up with the South Florida Student Shark Program (SFSSP) in the Keys, one beautiful Sunday morning, with the intention of learning more about their work. Neil Hammerschlag, a dedicated scientist and conservationist, runs the two-year old program funded by the Hoover Foundation and University of Miami. Their goal? To study the habitat and health of the shark population in the keys to ensure the sharks’ continued critical existence in these waters. Their main scientific tools? High school students.

(The team in action. Pictures by Neil Hammerschlag.)

Yes, that’s right. High school students are doing much of the work. While I can shamefully recall being concerned with things like finding cool combat boots (yes, I was a little bit of a rebel) and my favorite band at the time (Depeche Mode of course), this group of young adults – at the same age I was - are worried enough about the health of the oceans to give up their weekends to attempt catching and tagging sharks.

(The SFSSP gang bragging about 13 sharks!!!)

I was thoroughly impressed and excited with the work Neil Hammerschlag, LeAnne Winn, Adam Matulik and the team are doing – going far beyond studying the range, size, and health of the local shark population – but also examining the high mercury content and other chemicals such us neurotoxins in the shark’s flesh. You see, their work gives all of us shark conservationists a powerful weapon in our arsenal to stop those who consume shark fin soup. As apex predators, the sharks are amassing dangerous doses of methyl-mercury in their flesh – even in their fins - which is consumed when they are eaten. One bowl of shark fin soup is often enough to cause birth defects in pregnant women, and mercury poisoning leads to sterility and nervous system issues. Mercury poisoning is so common that 1 in 3 Chinese born women tested in New York city had four times the FDA approved limit in their blood. Through the SFSSP’s work, high mercury levels in Floridian sharks can now be proven. What’s more, Neil’s team is contributing to a world-wide effort to examine shark tissue for other contaminants, including a chemical that leads to brain disorders such as Alzhemiers. Ironically the soup meant to symbolize health and prosperity is a dangerous concoction of environmental poisons.

On the day I joined the team, we headed to an area that was home to a deep channel between two Keys and set the initial ten drumlines. While I am usually the one covered in dead fish, it was such a treat to have eleven students eager to get messy! The students prepared the fish, baited the hooks, laid the lines and took samples. I was already smiling to see such enthusiasm when it was time to check the first line.

So imagine how big my smile was to find that on the 15 lines we set, we caught 13 sharks! A new SFSSP record! (And finally, maybe my curse was over. Yes, I am always the one who gets on a boat to see nothing and get no results only to hear from someone that only the day prior, that they saw synchronized white sharks breaching, or an aggregation of 100 whale sharks, or they tagged the world’s largest bull shark, or recorded a bait ball that consisted of 12 different elasmobranch species so big it was visible even in space.)

The boat was buzzing with activity as the team of scientists and students worked side by side to quickly pull in each shark minimizing impact on the animal, take its measurements and specifics, obtain a core sample and a fin clip, and tag it with two separate tags. 4 bull sharks, 1 nurse shark, 4 lemon sharks, and 5 black tips! It was absolutely amazing.

In all of the action, I managed to chat with a few kids to determine how these experiences were impacting them. Of the 6 kids I talked to, four wanted a career that would allow them to get involved in environmental science or marine biology, five were now using seafood choice cards and the one who was a fisherman had stopped catching sharks – as did his whole family. And what’s more, each one of them told me, with complete passion and total believability (not to mention accuracy), why it was so important to protect sharks, given their role in our planet’s overall health. My spirits soared when I imagined all of the kids whose lives SFSSP had changed – and then, in turn, all of the people whose minds were changed about sharks because of these compassionate, committed kids. SFSSP truly is giving sharks, and our youth, a chance.

Without a doubt, the work SFSSP is doing is absolutely critical. Not just to improve our collective understanding for sharks, or even to stop them from being chased into extinction, but to make this world a better place – for generations to come.

To learn more about SFSSP, please check out their blog on the Shark Savers site – and their website.