The Stunningly Cruel Details Of The Shark Dragging Case

Portraits Of Cruelty (and Stupidity)

Sometimes it is hard to believe how cruel, and lacking in humanity, people can be (though sometimes I worry that it is all too easy to believe). The shark-dragging case is one of those times:

While fishing in state waters near Egmont Key in Hillsborough County, Benac shot a blacknose shark with a speargun at about 3 p.m. Heintz took a photo of Benac holding the speargun and Wenzel holding a gaffed blacknose shark with a spear through it.

Twenty minutes later, Wenzel shot a video as Benac, Easterling and Heintz danced on the bow of the boat. Benac was holding the speargun.

Less than two hours later, Benac caught a six-foot blacktip shark on a hook and line in state waters near Egmont Key, the reports said.

At 5:08 p.m., Heintz recorded Benac retrieving the shark. In the 10-second video, as the shark is pulled near the right side of the boat by Benac, Wenzel shoots the shark one time with a .38 revolver in the left side of the head, near the gills, the report said.

“All occupants can be heard celebrating by laughing,” according to the report.

At 5:10 p.m., Heintz recorded Benac continuing to fight with the shark. The eight-second video shows Wenzel shoot at the shark three times with the same revolver as it is pulled close to the left side of the boat, the report said.

After the shooting, all occupants cheered and erupted into laughter, the report said.

The report said it was unknown whether any of the bullets hit the shark. However, after being shot at, the shark tried again to flee.

At 5:14 p.m., the shark was landed and Wenzel recorded it lying on its back and tail roped. During the video, the occupants are heard laughing while Easterling holds the rope.

The next 10-second video shows Wenzel driving the boat while Benac records the shark as it’s dragged at high speed. The shark can be seen bouncing and skipping across the surface of the water.

As the camera pans to the port side, Heintz is seen recording the same incident. In both videos, all of the men are seen and heard laughing while the shark is dragged.

These guys are beyond redemption (and beyond stupid for posting their cruelty on social media). But what gives me hope is the strong reaction to their cruelty. Maybe this incident, like the starving polar bear I posted earlier, can help people break through their disconnectedness to the natural world, and inspire them to do more to protect the interests of nonhuman animals and the environments they live in.

Do Sharks “Spyhop”?

Sort of. Maybe.

Especially oceanic whitetips, according to Dr. Demian Chapman, via Blue Ocean Institute:

Is it akin to spy-hopping behavior of killer whales or great white sharks? Probably not, because these two apex predators use spy-hopping to see prey that spend part of their time or land or ice, such as seals. Oceanic whitetips feed on prey that live exclusively underwater, like fish and squid.

I remember reading a paper by a Russian scientist who speculated that oceanic whitetips pick up scents in the air and that they may spy-hop to pick up windborne scents of floating animal carcasses.  Who knows? We are free to speculate. One of the crew suggests the sharks are trying to startle us and make us fall in the water!

CITES Schizophrenia: Sharks And Rays Vs. Polar Bears

CITES giveth (to some sharks and manta rays), and CITES taketh away (or doesn’t giveth, for polar bears).

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(via Washington Post)

This news came out last week, but it illustrates perfectly the imperfections of the CITES regime and its inscrutable byzantine politics:

An international meeting of government wildlife officials rejected a U.S. proposal to ban the global trade of polar bear parts Thursday, following an impassioned appeal by Canadian Inuits to preserve polar bear hunting in their communities.

There are between 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears living in the wild in Canada, the United States, Russia, Denmark and Norway, according to the most recent analysis, which was conducted in the early 1990s. Scientists project that as Arctic summer sea ice shrinks, many polar bear populations could decline by 66 percent by mid-century.

I still haven’t seen an account which explains what actually went on behind the scenes to kill this proposal. But all sorts of vote-trading and vote-buying is the norm at CITES. And often enough protecting endangered species is not, in fact, the priority.

Because it’s not like the evidence of climate change, and the rate at which it is occurring, is diminishing. In fact, a recent study only makes it look more dramatic in the context of the past 11,000 years of earth history.

Tiger Shark Tale

Shark advocate and underwater explorer Scott Cassell gets a tiger shark to start eating a Go Pro camera. The result is an interesting view you personally never hope to experience yourself.

You can read more about Cassell and the underwater craziness he gets up to in this piece I wrote about him for Outside.

Shark Sanctuary

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most powerful. If you want to stop shark fishing and finning, don’t muck around with caps, fisheries management, and licenses. Address the problam directly and ban commercial fishing.

That’s the approach the Marshall islands took when they created the world’s largest shark sanctuary. Almost two million square kilometers of protected waters and reefs, WITH (and this is key, obviously) enforcement.

But there’s always a difference between the vision and the implementation. So it’s worth checking in on how the sanctuary is working out one year in. So the Pew Environment Group, which has been intimately involved in this effort, takes a look.

I’d love to believe things are going so well. And I love the fact that some people are now calling for a Pacific Ocean sanctuary. But I wonder what is happening with poaching. And “non-commercial” shark fishing. And commercial fishing of other species and bycatch. There is so much money in shark finning that there is always the danger that it will find a way to overcome, evade, or sneak through loopholes, in any sanctuary.

But those are challenges of implementation, and can be addressed with greater vigilance and funding. The essential point remains: sanctuaries are an immensely simple and powerful idea. And can do more to preserve and steward fish populations than any other approach.

Sharks Are The Modern Equivalent Of Bison

Anyone who is paying any attention at all knows that sharks are in trouble. But it is always helpful when science takes a hard run at establishing the facts. Here’s what a recent research effort at the University Of Hawaii came up with:

In an effort to answer the , the research team crunched data from 1607 surveys from the NOAA Coastal Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) to calculate the effect of human habitation on shark populations. The CRED team counted sharks throughout the Pacific using towed diver surveys, the most efficient and effective way to study open ocean creatures on a large spatial scale, and compared their counts with local human population numbers. Their results were clear – and sobering.

“Around each of the heavily populated areas we surveyed — in the main Hawaiian Islands, the Mariana Archipelago and American Samoa — reef shark numbers were greatly depressed,” said Marc Nadon, lead author of the study. “We estimate that less than 10% of the baseline numbers remain in these areas.”

That 90% reduction in shark populations has long been the consensus guess on what humanity, which loves to monetize and commercialize fears of what sharks can do to us, is actually doing to sharks. So it is not surprising so much as it is a depressing indication that that catastrophic 90% number might actually be correct.

At that level, it is an echo of a similar destruction of a population for commercial benefit: the slaughter of the American buffalo. The American buffalo, or bison, was once the most numerous species of large animal on earth–until mankind saw profits in the skins and meat, and systematically reduced the herds to near extinction.

A pile of bison skulls in the 1870s, waiting to be ground into fertilizer.

There is an echo also in the cruelty involved, with shark finning easily matching, and in my view surpassing, the practice of  stampeding buffalo over a cliff for calculated barbarity.

Shark fins drying.

There is one difference, though, between the human slaughter of sharks and the human slaughter of buffalo. The meat and skins of buffalo were arguably more vital to human existence than any product the shark slaughter provides. That is not to justify or excuse the slaughter of the buffalo. It is only to say that the destruction of shark populations for soup, crank cancer treatments and the pathetic hope for more sexual prowess (particularly given the importance of sharks to the overall oceanic ecosystem) is particularly senseless and a cosmic crime against the planet.

Top Predator: It’s A Reality Show (But Not A Fake One On TV)

These fins used to be attached to a "top predator." Until another predator came along.

The top predator in the oceans is not one of the top predators that normally pop into your head–sharks, killer whales, swordfish, marlin. The top predator in the oceans is, well, us.

And according to researchers from the University Of British Columbia we are doing a pretty thorough job of taking out all the top oceanic predators and destabilizing the oceanic food chain (with, for example, the sort of swordfishing practices I posted yesterday).

Here’s the bottom line:

In half of the North Atlantic and North Pacific waters under national jurisdiction, fishing has led to a 90-per-cent decrease in top predators since the 1950s, and the impacts are now headed south of the Equator, according to a new study published online December 5 in the journalMarine Ecological progress Series…

[snip]..The scientists found that the exploitation of marine predators first occurred in coastal areas of northern countries, then expanded to the high seas and to the southern hemisphere. The decline of top-of-the-food-chain predators also means widespread and fundamental changes to both the structure and function of marine systems.

This is exactly the sort of finding that reinforces the analogy of humanity as locusts, systematically and relentlessly depleting resources and species around the planet. As Daniel Pauly, principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project at UBC, asks: “After running out of predator fish in the north Atlantic and Pacific, rather than implementing strict management and enforcement, the fishing industry pointed its bows south. The southern hemisphere predators are now on the same trajectory as the ones in the northern hemisphere. What happens next when we have nowhere left to turn?”

That’s an obvious question that has no good answer. And we got here because the price and consumption of fish in no way reflects the costs of this outcome.

 

Swimming With The (Great White) Fishes

I’m always impressed by the ingenuity and energy that some people apply to geting up close to the ocean’s greatest predators. And sometimes the results are pretty spectacular, conveying the grace and aura of some incredible animals in a way that an aquarium never could.

Take, for example, Lawrence Groth, a shark diver who has been experimenting with a self-propelled shark cage. Somehow, moving along with a massive Great White shark, as opposed to viewing it from a static cage, transforms the experience. Just check out this video, and you’ll see what I mean:

(h/t Pete Thomas)