Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Scott Suzuki-Jones Understands "Aumakua"

As the ongoing debate in Oahu about commercial shark diving rages on, a lone voice in the wilderness comes forth with probably one of the best counters to the issue of "Aumakua" we have seen yet.

The anti-shark diving lobby, increasingly using any excuse to ban shark diving in Hawaiian waters has put forth the tired and hackneyed "Aumakua defense."

To suggest to lawmakers native Hawaiians are "offended" that tourists cage dive with sharks is this arguments strong point.

The "Aumakua defense" is well worn in Hawaii, stopping developments, road signs, health care for the aged, and even access to clean drinking water. The defense works when politicians cannot see through proper and respectful use of Aumaku vs media hype.

Today one voice knocked aside the anti-shark diving "Aumakua defense" and offered up some well thought words on the matter.

Kudos to Hawaiian resident Scott Suzuki-Jones, here is his Op-Ed from this weeks Honolulu Weekly:

Despite the fear and fanfare, there is no reliable scientific evidence, empirical or anecdotal, showing that shark tour activity is hazardous or causes harm to sharks, to people taking shark tours, to people engaged in other water activities in deep-water, to people in or around the reefs, or to people on the beaches.

Shark tours are conducted in deep-water, miles from shore. Sharks encountered in deep-water are deep-water species, not near-shore or reef sharks. Deep-water sharks do not follow boats back to shore. They stay in the deep-water because that is their natural habitat.

People taking the tours are in protective cages in which they cannot be harmed by or do harm to the sharks. People stay in the cages and the sharks stay out.

Shark tours are not an offense to traditional Hawaiian culture or religion. Akua, God, is revealed to us spiritually, through our fellow human beings, and through every manifestation of Nature. Aumakua, our Hawaiian “saints,” reveal them selves and intervene on our behalf through specific manifestations in nature, such as sharks. If the Aumakua revealed in certain sharks were offended, they would avoid and refuse to participate in the activities related to shark tours.

Because Aumakua are revealed in sharks does not make them stupid. Aumakua are not animals or plants or inanimate objects. They are spirit-beings. They are the revered ancestors of human beings. To think otherwise is to cater to long-standing intellectual bigotry by non-Hawaiians that, because someone is Hawaiian, he or she is stupid.

If anything, I imagine Aumakua would approve of shark tours because they invariably instill in participants a reverence for nature in general, for the ocean in particular, and especially for the sharks encountered. In other words, in the Hawaiian scheme of things, shark tours would instill a greater reverence for Akua, God.

For those of us honestly concerned about protecting people from sharks in the ocean, all reliable empirical and anecdotal scientific evidence suggests we should ban all near-shore human activity in the ocean, as opposed to deep-water activity like shark tours. This means all human activity in the reefs, the open-water inside the reefs, and the open-water just outside of the reefs. Virtually all shark attacks occur in the reefs or in the open-water just outside of the reefs. The victims are almost always surfers and swimmers, and to a lesser-degree divers, especially divers who are spear fishing and drawing blood from their catch.

When sharks do venture into open-water inside the reefs, it is usually because they are following spear-fishermen, who are swimming back to shore with their bloody catches, or because of fish that surf-fisherman have hooked and are reeling into shore. Every experienced spear or surf-fisherman can tell you stories of catches they have lost to raiding sharks in the reefs and surf.

In other words, if we are honest about doing something to reduce the danger to people posed by sharks, we need to ban all forms of near-shore surfing, all forms of near-shore swimming, all forms of near-shore diving and all forms of near-shore fishing. Of course, this ban would be ridiculous, just as ridiculous as the proposed shark-tour ban.

If we are just as honest about protecting people in the ocean, and protecting the ocean environment overall, then we will have to ban motorized boating, Jet Skiing, and similar motorized ocean activities. Every year, more than a few people are killed, several people are catastrophically injured, and innumerable people suffer serious injury in Hawaii because of motorized boating and jet-skiing.

Compare that with the extremely low incidence of shark attacks and their related injuries and deaths. Further, these motorized ocean activities seriously endanger other people recreating in the ocean, they pollute the ocean with petroleum products, and they make deafening noise. This ban would also be ridiculous, if only because no elected official would ever get re-elected if they supported it.

Finally, if our motive is to protect the sharks, then we need to ban all forms of fishing and hunting for sharks and their prey, both of which have decimated the Earth’s and Hawaii’s shark populations in the last 50 years. And we would be well-served to remember this the next time we barbeque shark or ahi fillets over the grill during the holidays

Scott Suzuki-Jones

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