Every August, the Discovery Channel runs its exceptionally popular Shark Week series that highlights the interaction between people and sharks. In an odd coincidence, we in Santa Barbara experienced our own version of the series as several great white sharks were spotted swimming in local waters around the same time. After “Swim at Your Own Risk” signs were posted along many of the county’s beaches, lifeguards were sent home, and races were cancelled, most swimmers begrudgingly stayed out of the ocean. Though my triathlete friend Mike decided to brave the waters. He stated, “The sharks are always there; it’s just a matter of whether we see them or not.”
Despite the public’s fear of shark attacks, statistics show that sharks are more threatened by humans than we are by them. According to the International Shark Attack File, there were 12 deaths from unprovoked shark attacks around the world last year. On the flipside, 73 million sharks are killed worldwide each year in commercial fisheries, mostly for their fins. The Shark-Free Marina Initiative released statistics showing that recreational fishing of sharks in the United States alone has contributed to the devastating decline in shark populations worldwide.
According to the Humane Society of the United States: “This is a staggering number that is compounded by the hundreds of thousands of sharks killed for sport in the United States annually. This recreational killing of sharks adds not only to the alarming death toll but also undermines efforts to gain better protections for sharks and sends an unspoken message that the only good shark is a dead one.”
The Red List of Threatened Species put together by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) includes at least 82 sharks and rays. According to the Discovery Channel, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group determined that 16 of the 21 oceanic shark and ray species caught in high-seas fisheries are at heightened risk of extinction, primarily due to targeted fishing for their fins — used in soup and folkloric remedies — and meat, as well as indirect take, known as by-catch, in other fisheries. Long-line fisheries, for example, can serve as death traps for sharks, which may get caught up in baited hooked lines stretching for up to 50 miles in the open sea.
When it comes to catching sharks for their fins, many animal welfare groups are up in arms, rightfully so, about the way sharks are “finned.” Sharks are caught and hauled out of the water only to be thrown back in once their fins have been sliced off. While their fins are made into “delicacies” such as shark-fin soup, the sharks themselves either suffocate or slowly bleed to death. Luckily, some change is on the horizon. Last year, President Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act, which closed critical loopholes in the federal law to improve enforcement, such as requiring boats to land sharks with their fins still attached. However, the majority of shark fins sold in the U.S. come from Hong Kong, which receives its supply of fins from at least 80 countries, most of which have lax and ineffective shark finning bans.
Here in California, the market for shark-fin soup is the largest outside Asia. Thankfully, Gov. Brown signed a bill last year banning the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins in order to protect the world’s dwindling shark population. However, the existing stocks on-hand of shark fins can be sold until July 1, 2013, and sport fishermen who catch a shark can still eat the fin or have the shark stuffed and mounted as a trophy.
What You Can Do
• If you are a fisherman, follow the words of Guy Harvey, founder of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation: “I encourage recreational fishermen everywhere to join with me to help protect sharks and our oceans by releasing all the sharks that you catch. Our world needs sharks.”
• Don’t go to restaurants that serve shark fin on the menu and encourage your family and friends to avoid same. Write to the owners, or call them and let them know why you’re not going to their restaurant and ask them to stop using shark fins.
• Take part in banning shark fins in the United States. For more information, visit sharksavers.org.
• Educate your children about sharks. A really great children’s book is Nicole in The Surf is my Turf. For more information, visit saveoursharks.com.
• Adopt a shark, and donate to a worthy charity. For more information, visit adoptashark.com.
WAGS N’ WHISKERS FESTIVAL at Girsh Park, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. this Sunday, August 26.
On Sunday, August 26, CARE4Paws hosts its fourth annual Wags n’ Whiskers Festival at Girsh Park in Goleta from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. The fun-filled event — Santa Barbara County’s largest adoption festival — features dogs, cats, and bunnies from 20-plus animal shelters and rescues countywide. The festival also showcases a range of local pet service providers, including Lemos, Dioji, Angel Veterinary Hospital, Camp Canine, and HydroPaws. Among the proud sponsors, CARE Hospital, Chrissie’s Fund, Montecito Bank & Trust, Citrix Online, Valley Pets, and Advanced Veterinary Specialty.
Festival-goers enjoy a great mix of activities, such as agility by Goleta Valley Dog Club, flyball with the Santa Barbara Supersonic, dancing dogs, and police-dog performances. We also pay a special tribute to the “invisible shelter pet” — representative of the great dogs and cats who, for no good reason, get overlooked at the shelter. Our fun Pawsitive Thinking Kids Corner invites children to discover how to care for all living beings, while local veterinarians share the latest in animal wellness. Pros from Santa Barbara’s Paul Mitchell The School style two- and four-legged alike, and photographer Bonnie Baker offers pet portraits. Additionally, Project PetSafe provides low-cost vaccines, microchipping, and licensing from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The organizer, CARE4Paws (short for Community Awareness, Responsibility, Education), is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that works to reduce pet overpopulation and keep animals out of the shelters. Services include early education, bilingual community outreach, free spays/neuters, dog-training intervention, pit bull education, and countywide adoption events — like Wags n’ Whiskers. What makes Wags n’ Whiskers unique is that it sheds light on the impressive work of the county’s animal shelters and rescues and lets the public meet a large number of adoptable pets outside the typical shelter environment.
Last year’s events drew more than a thousand visitors and inspired forever homes for as many as 35 cats and dogs. This year, CARE4Paws aims to significantly increase the number of adoptions, visitors, and vendors and make it an even more successful gathering for our community’s animal lovers. Visit care4paws.org for more information and a list of festival participants
Adoptable Pet of the Week