Totems: Shark, Part 4
by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman
Do you have galeophobia? What’s that? It’s a fear of sharks. Though shark attacks on humans are always big news, and despite the fact that sharks inhabit almost every sea on the planet, the odds of being killed by a shark are 1 in 3.7 million. Just to put it into perspective, more people are killed every year by falling coconuts than by sharks. The odds are also higher, of being killed by a dog, bee or wasp. Still, if you see one swimming in that telltale zigzag pattern and hunching its back, the shark may be about to attack. Interestingly, it is not the sight of blood in the water that attracts sharks to prey. Because blood alters water’s electrical conductivity, it is the electrical impulses, which then alerts the shark’s electro-magnetic receptors.
Though shark attacks are relatively rare, in 2015, 98 unprovoked shark attacks were reported. Following an increasing number of fatal shark attacks, the government of Western Australia proposed a controversial new policy for dealing with sharks, that was called out by environmentalists for being nothing more than a cull that would hurt shark populations and non-target species, without actually doing anything to keep people safe. The cluster of attacks led to a baiting and killing initiative at popular beaches. For 13 weeks, fisheries set out 72 baited drum lines (baited hooks attached to buoys) in designated zones, in addition to contracting with fishermen to monitor the lines and “humanely” destroy sharks found alive, by shooting them and discarding their bodies offshore. A study commissioned on the best shark hazard mitigation tactics, recommended not using drum lines, because of their overall negative impact on the environment, and the threat to non-target sharks and other species, including dolphins. The plan is especially offensive considering the ongoing global efforts to protect sharks from exploitation. Capturing, tagging, transporting and releasing large sharks offshore are all better alternatives, along with focusing on education and communication about sharks and how to avoid attacks. The Australian policy was eventually scrapped, but sharks deemed a threat can still be killed.
Instead, some people in Western Australia have taken to Twitter to warn beach goers where sharks are. This is social media technology one can appreciate. Scientists tagged at least 320 sharks including Great Whites with transmitters that set off alarms when they approached beaches, and updated a Twitter feed with personal information about their size, species, and location.
Some scientists feel we can certainly develop a more intelligent solution than just killing sharks, and I am particularly thrilled about this one, not only for its humane efficacy and elegant solution, but also because the scientist who invented it is married to my cousin. So thanks Shark totem, for insisting I write about you this time. Dr. Craig O’Connell, a marine biologist has created a shark-repellent enclosure that will protect swimmers and marine life so that sharks and humans can one day swim together. He intends to save shark lives, while saving human lives. Part of its brilliance as a plan is how low-tech it is. Magnetism is the key.
Dr. O’Connell is currently studying the effects of electro-sensory stimuli (e.g. electro-positive metals and permanent magnets) on the feeding and swimming behaviors of sharks, rays and skates. With success in preliminary studies, he is now assessing the efficacy of permanent magnets to deter and repel predatory shark species away from beaches and anti-shark nets. Magnets appear to confuse the shark’s electro-receptors, so magnets greater than the level of the magnetic field of the earth are placed on jointed PVC pipes to form a perimeter, where they will repel hunting sharks. The pipes sway in the current, replicating giant kelp; sharks don’t like to swim in giant kelp beds. It’s an alternative solution to beach nets and drum lines. Sharks, surfers and swimmers could presumably swim within inches of each other, peacefully co-existing.
If shark totem is about any one thing, that would be survival. Sharks are hard-wired first and foremost to survive. Survival is first chakra business. Shark totem will help us keep a forward momentum that embraces life. It may also help us establish roots, or find the place on earth that feels like home, especially if it’s near the sea. So how did this master of the survival instinct come to be so threatened with its own survival?
Conservation groups estimate that thirty percent of the world’s shark species are close to extinction. Climate change is causing unprecedented changes to our ocean: warming seas, dying reefs and struggling fish populations. All this could spell disaster for the ocean’s top predator. The primary culprits are commercial fishing boats. 100 million sharks are killed EVERY YEAR by commercial fishing operations - that's almost 200 sharks killed every minute of every day! The biggest offenders are industrial tuna fleets, which needlessly kill millions of sharks and wreak havoc on fish populations with their giant nets and long lines. Sharks have declined 97% in the Mediterranean. Dusky sharks alone, off the Atlantic coast are estimated to have declined 99% over the last 40 years as a result of overfishing and bycatch, (when unwanted fish and other marine creatures are caught during commercial fishing). Nets kill sharks by suffocating them. They need to be able to breathe to live. Sharks used to be fished primarily in the north and east Atlantic, but now the practice has moved south because of declining populations. At least, shark fishing has been banned in the Bahamas, a big shark hangout. Sharks don’t even start reproducing until they are 12 or 15 years of age, and some species only have one to two pups during each reproductive cycle. There are currently 11 types of sharks that are at risk of extinction, and 74 types listed as threatened.
Sharks are an important part of the food chain. Certain kinds of fish, like the remora rely on sharks to live. They also keep other species like stingrays in check. We know that most sharks eat the flesh of seals, sea lions, dolphins, sea otters, octopuses, turtles, and fish, but in a turn-around, some seals, killer whales, other sharks, and crocodiles eat sharks … and some dolphins get away. There is a fine balance between predator and prey in nature, which is always disastrous to mess with. We need Every.Single.Wild.Species on the planet.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP PROTECT SHARKS
After release of the movie Jaws, the prevailing sentiment was that the only good shark was a dead shark. Peter Benchley, the author of the book was horrified at this response, and became a lifelong shark conservationist. Chris Fischer, founder of OCEARCH, a non-profit organization dedicated to researching great white sharks and other large predators says that sharks are necessary to keep the balance of fish in the ocean. “Sharks are the lions of the sea,’’ he said. “The ocean won’t thrive if sharks don’t.’’
Some cultural practices hundreds or thousands of years old need to change if sharks are to survive. One of these is shark fin soup, a supposed delicacy that leads to the death of millions of sharks each year. In a brutally cruel act, the shark’s fins are cut off and the shark is then thrown back into the ocean to die a slow, painful death. Oh, and shark fins have almost no taste, they’re just a thickener, so the whole thing is pointless and tragic. And besides, it costs over $100 a bowl.
Shark has been used in supplements for everything from helping to fight cancer to eliminating arthritis. The rationale is that sharks don’t get cancer … but they do, and tumors too. Did you know that the popular substance, chondroitin for joint health is derived from shark cartilage? It’s a far better practice to link energetically with this animal’s abundant chi (life force energy), to help overcome any debilitating disease or condition we may have. Thankfully, some big game anglers are combining sport with conservation. After the thrill of landing a shark, they measure it, take out the hook, and return the shark to the water. I’m sure they also take a lot of pictures!
You may be eating shark without knowing it. If it says “rock salmon,” “flake,” “huss,” or “rigg” it’s really dogfish, the world’s most common kind of shark. Dogfish is also the world’s most heavily fished shark for use in cat food, fertilizer, and farm animal food.
If you wear makeup, you might unknowingly be contributing to the killing of sharks.
Unbeknownst to most, one little ingredient in some sunscreens, moisturizing lotions, lip balms, lipsticks, and face creams is responsible for the death of over three million sharks annually.
Remember when I said that shark liver contains oil? Squalene is a naturally occurring compound found in large quantities in the livers of sharks. Many cosmetics companies use the oil, and an associated compound called squalane, as a base for their moisturizing and skin care creams, lipstick/gloss, as it is non-greasy and softens skin.” So, sharks are killed for their livers. The practice is known as shark “livering” and since most deep-sea sharks have larger livers, they are primary targets. Non-shark squalene can be created synthetically or extracted from vegetable sources like amaranth seed, olives, rice bran and wheat germ. Look for 100% plant-derived, vegetable based, or vegetable origins on the label. Due to pressure from animal protection organizations, major brands like Unilever, L’Oreal and Estée Lauder have agreed to no longer use squalene in any of their products. Yay!
There’s an extraordinary amount of violence and aggression, long buried, on our beloved planet, bubbling to the surface. One cannot go a day without hearing of mass shootings, and every other form of violence erupting against humans and the natural world. We can either be impotent and afraid, or we can marshall energy to send healing to the situation, even as we clean up our own acts. Let us call upon totems such as shark to assist us.
Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 40 years; author of this column for 17 years. For Healing for you or your animal, Training, or her Book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: email@example.com