Although the Monster Shark Tourna ment is over until the same massacre occurs next July, please read on. My husband and I, the two protestors aside from the Humane Society, spent the hours during the weigh-in with signs stating our stance. We have heard many of the arguments that tournament participants and supporters mindlessly rattle off. If those people would do some research, they would uncover the truth about what we are doing to the oceans and the ecosystems within it.
First, we would like to thank the Oak Bluffs selectmen for not granting a liquor license to the tournament and for barring them from using town property for their party. A word to Greg Coogan, a selectman who voted against those measures: You were quoted as saying that the shark tournament issue was “a tired subject” and that there are more important issues for the town to deal with. With all due respect, my suggestion is to not hold public office if you get tired of hearing people’s concerns. Your reasons for wanting the tournament to continue were, if I’m not mistaken, wholly money-based. It’s not that we don’t want to bring money into the town. It’s about what we do to make that money. Prostitution, gun sales, drug sales and human trafficking generate loads of revenue, but we wouldn’t do those things as a town. I don’t see how a sport that involves people going out into the ocean to kill animals who are already threatened for cash prizes is any different. It is just as despicable, morally and ethically.
Humans are upsetting the natural balance. Sharks belong in the oceans. Really. This is not a protest against the fishing industry. This is a protest against killing integral beings for sport and a shiny new boat. That being said, we know this tournament isn’t the only thing that is endangering sharks. Longline fishing and bycatch are largely the reasons that sharks are disappearing. However, why not save the 27 sharks that were caught and submitted in this year’s tournament? By the way, 27 is not an accurate number. What happens to all the other sharks that were released, with bleeding injuries, back into their ocean homes? How many sharks did die in the two-day tournament?
Studies done by scientists at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia have shown that all coastal shark species saw population declines between the years 1986 and 2000, when the study was completed. Declines of 61 per cent on average. Blue shark numbers fell by 60 per cent, tiger shark by 65 per cent, thresher sharks by 80 per cent, great white by 79 per cent and hammerhead by 89 per cent. Because they mature slowly and have a low birthrate, recovery is expected to be slow. Science Daily stated that even moderate levels of poaching can derail attempts to protect shark populations.
If you think this doesn’t affect you, consider this: For those of you who eat meat, imagine not having your scallops, clams or shrimp. For those of you who like to swim in the ocean, imagine not being able to go into the water without being swarmed by stinging jellyfish. These things are happening already. In an article in 2007 by Andrea Thompson, she says that a new study supports the case that the shrinking shark populations have a trickle-down effect on the ocean ecosystem. “With the large predators gone, their prey — smaller sharks and rays — are free to feast on lower organisms like scallops and clams, depleting valuable commercial stock.” Recently, there was an article on the front page of The New York Times entitled Swarms of Stinging Tentacles Offer Hint of Ocean’s Decline.”
Elisabeth Rosenthal says that “jellyfish are becoming more numerous and more widespread and they are showing up in places where they have rarely been seen before. The explosion of jellyfish populations, scientists say, reflects a combination of severe overfishing of natural predators like tuna, sharks and swordfish, rising sea temperatures caused in part by global warming, and pollution that has depleted oxygen levels in coastal shallows.” It continues to say, “Human-caused stresses, including global warming, and overfishing are encouraging jellyfish surpluses in many tourist destinations and productive fisheries.”
Seems to me, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. Consider the irony: we allow the Monster Shark Tournament to take place on this Island for 22 years because it’s good for business, only to contribute to the extinction of the sharks so that jellyfish overrun the waters and nobody vacations here anymore. That’s not very good for business. Recently, I heard that it is our ability to imagine a future that sets us apart from other animals. I also think it is that we are prone to destruction, particularly self-destruction. Contributing, at any level, to the unnecessary slaughter of apex predators will come back to bite us. When Steve James said that he will continue to organize the tournament for as long as he can, did he mean he will do it until there are no more sharks to kill?
With the land bank, Trustees and Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, this Island community has taken monumental and admirable measures to ensure the conservation and preservation of the land. But what is an Island without the integrity of its ocean?
My husband and I have been at the weigh-ins with our signs for the past couple of years. We will be there next year, if necessary. Although we receive more harassment than cheers, there have been quite a few people who tell us that they agree with us. Silence can sometimes be misconstrued as consent, so please don’t attend the weigh-ins next year to watch the public lynching of a magnificent animal. Make signs and join us.
Julie Verost and Scott Hershowitz live in Oak Bluffs.