The most persecuted animals in the ocean?

Author William McKeever visits a shark tournament.

Thresher shark head at shark tournament in Montauk

Sharks are dragged for hours on a rod and reel. They are pulled behind speeding boats and tortured to death. They are strung up like criminals at events to be observed by the crowds. Their jaws cut out and hung as trophies. What crime do sharks commit to deserve this? What harm do they do to the environment that they must be eradicated this way? Yet society allows this treatment to continue. Some think being drawn and quartered was dispensed with the end of the medieval world. That world is still with us and its apotheosis is the shark tournament.

How can a progressive society possibly allow this to happen to another creature on this planet? A surge in recognition has taken place for the rights of the vulnerable segments in society. The woman’s movement is a perfect example where society has decided to recognize their rights. Women used to live in fear of being fired from their jobs by high powered executives if they protested maltreatment. Now society has put in place protections so abuses to women in the workplace will be fully prosecuted under the law.

In a very real sense, the animal, minority and women’s rights are derived from a realization that society cannot leave any group behind in the dust. If we are to make the transition to a progressive and just society, then not just one group but all groups must likewise progress to freedom from fear and exploitation, even if they happen to have a tail fin.

Sharks are a microcosm of how society views its various constituents. Fishermen should not have the right to derive their pleasure from killing and torturing sharks. If society treats this crucial apex predators as dishwater, then that says something about society’s values and how it can treat various groups. When society selects who is important enough to protect and who isn’t, one can only wonder at the atrocities the vulnerable groups will suffer.

The United States is truly blessed bordering two great oceans, and Americans can enjoy thousands of miles of coastline for recreation. Many countries are landlocked so its citizens rarely can enjoy the ocean. What keeps our oceans healthy are sharks. Sharks are apex predators in the ocean and vital to the health of the seas.

Mako shark at Montauk tournament

When the tournament was over, I realized that there was another one scheduled in Montauk next month. Last year, seventy one registered tournaments in which large pelagic sharks were caught took place along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida. Twenty-eight tournaments target select shark species exclusively.

All this carnage will be repeated again and again as if in a surrealistic dream. Would people do this to other apex predators? Catch a lion in a safari and hang him upside down on a yardarm for viewing? Then the lion would be cut down and chopped into pieces so that the parts could be thrown in the garbage. Or do the same thing to a bear or a tiger in a tournament? Just because people are frightened of sharks out of ignorance, the cruelty to these animals and damage to the ecosystem cannot be ignored.

Dumpster at Montauk tournament containing chopped up sharks. These apex predators end up in landfills to rot with household garbage

The facts speak for themselves; you are more likely to be killed by an ant than a shark. Society needs to rethink the laws around cruelty to sharks. Yet the great ocean predator has no voice in the courts. He has to die for entertainment. The spirit of the Roman coliseum lives on.

William McKeever lives in New York City, where he writes books and produces films about ocean conservation. His latest book ‘Emperors of the Deep: Sharks – the ocean’s most mysterious, most misunderstood, and most important guardians’ is available here. Website https://emperorsofthedeep.com

This article is part of Blue Planet Society’s campaign to end shark tournaments.

Please sign our End Shark Tournaments petition https://www.change.org/p/noaa-fisheries-end-shark-tournaments

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