Saturday, February 23, 2008

People ask me, "Are you crazy??"

The 3 women that I regularly scuba dive with and I, (the Viking Women), will be taking a Shark School workshop with our friend, Dr. Erich Ritter in May 2008. Dr. Ritter gives these workshops in the Bahamas, South Africa and the Maldives. The purpose of the workshop is to focus on the behavior of sharks with a special emphasis on interacting with them.

We have dove many times with
sharks. In fact, when we schedule diving trips, we like to make sure that we are going where we will see sharks.

Dr. Erich Ritter is a shark behaviorist and the senior scientist of Green Marine. He has a PhD in Behavioral Ecology and his expertise is to work with sharks to try to find out what their body language means. His main interest is shark attacks and their causes. He has spent the last 8 years collecting data from the oceans around the world, but his primary focus is on bull sharks, lemon sharks and great whites.

If you have ever watch "
Shark Week" on Discovery channel, you have seen him. He, himself, was attacked by a female bull shark in Walkers Cay, Bahamas in 2002, while standing in 3 feet of water researching the sharks. The already frequently performed experiment was to show that sharks do not pay attention to people when there is food in the water. The water was murky that day and there were more than the usual amount of sharks gathered. As a chunk of food was thrown into the water, a remora (shark sucker) grabbed at the food and headed in Erich's direction. A bull shark snatched at the remora and caught Erich's left calf in the process. Although it took several hours of surgery to reattach the muscles, he will never have normal use of his leg. He forgave the shark and he clearly saw this as a case of mistaken identity in this situation.

Erich Ritter: "... there is no such thing as dangerous sharks, only dangerous situations. This fact must be made public... for the sake of the animals and our children... once mankind can get rid of its fear from sharks, then sharks can be protected... the over fishing and slaughtering of sharks is one of the biggest ecological time bombs of our time and the consequences will have a devastating effect - not just for nature but mankind as well... the conscious interaction with sharks is an important tool for their better understanding..."

I have a love for sharks that makes my family think I'm just plain crazy!! I like to lay on the ocean bottom with my camera and wait for the sharks to get close enough for me to get that "ultimate shot." (I'm still waiting for it). I guess you could say I'm a little too adventurous for my own good sometimes. But my love for sharks goes beyond the camera. I see a very real potential of our harming the balance of our oceans by allowing things like "finning" to happen.
Finning is a practice in certain countries and cultures that uses longlines in fishing to catch many sharks at once, bring them on board the fishing boats, remove and keep the fins and throw the rest of the carcass back into the sea. Shark meat is considered low value and of no purpose. The sharks are most often alive when they are tossed back in and not being able to swim, they sink to the bottom to die a miserable death. The fins are then transported back to market to be used mainly in shark fin soup. One pound of dried shark fin can retail for $300 or more, making it a multi-billion dollar industry. This practice has increased over the past decade, causing the shark population to dwindle yearly.

Practices like long-lining doesn't just affect the sharks, but sea turtles, dolphins and other bird and sea creatures who get caught in these lines.

The shark's only natural enemy is man. Man is destroying our oceans day by day, year by year. We have to be educated and aware and stop these barbaric practices, for the sake of, not only the sharks, but of our oceans.

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