Sunday, November 30, 2008

CNN's Planet in Peril

Richard Theiss at RTSea is on the pulse of eco tourism, media, and sharks with his latest posting today:

In early October, I posted information about CNN's Planet in Peril series (Oct. 10 posting). They will be covering several important shark issues, among other important environmental topics. The show will air on December 11 (check your local listings for exact times).

It appears that the show will cover shark finning/shark conservation and shark ecotourism. The video previews available on the shark finning segment cover familiar ground for those of you familiar with shark conservation issues. Hopefully it will enlighten some of the less informed. Of course, the biggest issue in saving sharks is finding effective ways to change the cultural midset regarding shark fin soup and other related products. Much like the criticisms hurled against the ineffectiveness of the "drug wars", we must wrestle with the demand for the product with equal attention and force.

The other shark issue that CNN touches on is shark ecotourism. They look at a South African operation and then touch on whether baiting white sharks is teaching them to attack surfers and swimmers (it makes for an exciting story). It's an argument often used by opponents, but in my experience and from what I have learned from respected scientists who have studied these animals for a lot longer than I have spent filming them, it just doesn't hold water. These sharks are more discriminating than most uninformed people give them credit for. Attracted to fish chum and chasing/biting hangbait consisting of tuna, bonito, or something similiar, does not make a white shark suddenly develop a taste for human flesh and begin seeking out surfers or swimmers as their next prey. Surfers have been and probably will always be subject to mistaken identity for the large pinnipeds (seals, sea lions) that white sharks feed on.

I did find it noteworthy that the South African shark diving operation CNN chose to film had an incredibly small cage that fit the divers in like slices of bread in a toaster (a cameraman could barely fit a decent video housing in there) and they dragged the hangbait right up to the cage, causing the shark to bang up against the cage - dramatic fun for the tourists but potential harm for both the shark and the divers. This is not responsible shark ecotourism.

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