Sea Shepherd

Friday, August 19, 2011

Culture and Sharks

Culture has numerous positive connotations. The term “a cultured person” is often used to describe someone of refinement and sophistication. A person’s culture is seen as their rich heritage that is part of what forms them. I am not a fan of culture. It has the consequence that past deeds are re-performed into perpetuity without reviewing their merit, simply because it is part of a culture.

Let us draw an analogy with an individual. Being self aware involves constantly observing and analyzing your thoughts, actions and deeds to detect where you are weak or are acting in a manner that is unsuitable given your state of development. According to yoga philosophy, anything that is a regression from your standard of development is undesirable, and anything in line with your steps towards personal growth and improvement is desirable. So you need to constantly critically examine each component of your behavior and personality, and be honest and admit where an area needs to improve. You are realistic that it cannot all be done immediately and is a process, yet you are determined to work this process however long it takes. As such, nothing about you is accepted the way that it is. Yes, you accept yourself in your current state, because that is who you are, and you have to accept and love yourself. You are a work in progress and have already come an incredible distance just to be here in human form, but still have a way to go. If you accept yourself exactly as you are with a view of “I am never going to change”, well then, you may as well be dead. I say that because this life is nothing but an opportunity for you to grow and unfold and with that kind of stagnant outlook your growth will be negligible if anything. So, for example, I should accept that I am impatient but realize it as a fault and consciously try to improve my reaction to frustrating events and circumstances. When I am impatient and act in a manner that is inappropriate I need to be aware of it, watch myself doing it, be embarrassed and strengthen my resolve not to do it again.

There is that saying that goes along the lines of: When you change an action you create a habit, when you create a habit you shape your character. The yogis teach us that we are a culmination of our lifestyle practices and habits, and that we should be aware of each habit and its consequence on us. “I watch TV after dinner.” “I have a drink after work.” “I don’t eat vegetables.” These are common habits that people have without analyzing why they got stuck in it and what the consequence of this habit is on their lives. Does it contribute to their development, or improve the world around them? If not, why are they doing it? It is also surprisingly easy to change a habit – it comes down to changing that one activity at a time. Not buying that chocolate in the afternoon on this particular Tuesday afternoon is one action that can change a habit and change you.

So what does all of this have to do with culture? People perpetrate activities for the sole reason that it is part of their culture, without analyzing why did their culture have this activity and is it still relevant? Things have changed in 100’s of years and so must our actions. Some actions that may have been acceptable in the past, are no longer tolerable. Such an activity is the eating of shark-fin soup, and shark-finning.

Shark-finning is the despicable practice of taking a shark, “finning” it by cutting off its fins, and throwing the live shark overboard to die an excruciating death. It just sinks like a bleeding torpedo to the bottom and lies there, trying to swim but unable to move without its fins. Because only the fins are kept on board, and don’t take much space, countless thousands of sharks are slaughtered and stored on each ship.

I saw video footage of this ghastly and hateful practice on the incredible “Oceans” Blu-ray (not the censored Disney one, the French full version). It was the most disturbing thing that I have ever seen on the screen. Watching this splendid animal sinking to the bottom of the ocean after an Asian fisherman sliced off its fins, unable to swim and lying at the bottom bleeding grotesquely to death while it tried to move, unable to utter a sound. This image shocked me. Then I realized that this twisted and sadistic murder was not one special dramatic event, this was exactly what happened to thousands of sharks daily. All that had happened here was that I got a close up view. So I looked up how many sharks this is being done to. It is a truly horrific number. 140, 000 a day.

It is impossible for shark populations to stand up to this scale of mass slaughter. They are being decimated. For absolutely no purpose. Environmental degradation is always painful, but you can understand where it is coming from when there is a human need being satisfied. So when mines are built or grazing land made, it is sometimes wrong but you can understand the argument behind it. For example, in the Amazon we want the rainforest to exist but a poor family sees it differently if they see a chance to graze animals there or extract other resources.
Yet with Sharkfin soup, the reason is pathetic. The fin itself is tasteless cartilage. What shocked me is that it is not a fin or two in the soup, it is a bowl full of fins. Each serving is a massacre. I watched a documentary and read what I could find to try and understand it better. The senselessness is appalling. The only argument to support it, is that it is part of the Chinese culture, and that if you have a guest you must serve them sharkfin soup. It is a status symbol. Now that millions of Chinese are moving to Middle Class, the demand for shark fins has exploded. There is absolutely no thought of the damage incurred and the consequences thereof. It is a simple “it is our culture” without examining if it is a good practice. That is what initiated my rant against Culture. So sharks are being decimated so people can try to impress others.

Here is an actual quote from the documentary, “People say it is not humane what we do. But the shark is not humane, it eats the other fish, and kills them.”

Most of us accept that life will be harvested by humans, in the form of animal life and plant life being killed and used. The sickening part about sharkfinning is the waste. By throwing bodies overboard they can pack a ship high with only shark fins. I will use an example of Egypt. Egyptian fishermen never caught much sharks because they did not get a lot for a shark carcass. Then Chinese buyers taught them to just keep the fin and throw the shark overboard, and now sharks in that area are in the process of being wiped out. You don’t have to be brilliant to know that if you lose the top of the food chain, you are going to find some serious imbalances falling through.

The sharks are caught with long lines – the ocean is filled with lines with huge hooks that the sharks swim into and are hauled up and the fins sliced off and the bodies thrown in. Pure slaughter. The rate is truly alarming, and if we don’t do something soon, sharks will be gone because of the most stupid reason in the world.

I had the great privilege of diving with Sharks in Kwazulu Natal, reef sharks. I will return there to dive with the Tigers when it is warm enough for them to move, and am planning dives with 7-gill sharks and pelagic sharks. These are dives without a cage, just naturally seeing them in their element. You can not dive with them and not be moved by the experience. They are magnificent, powerful, perfectly designed creatures with a great dignity about them. This is what makes their mutilation so disgusting to me. See the link here to the photos of the sharks.
photos of sharks

I need to ask my Asian friends what it is with Asian people. There is so much of value in their philosophy, but the 4 most awful injustices being wreaked on animals in the world at the moment are due to beliefs and views that can only be described as fucking stupid.

1)Sharks being destroyed for shark fin soup to prove status
2)Rhinos being destroyed and their horns taken so little penises can try become erect. There are so many natural ways to achieve this – ginseng, guarana, etc.
3)Dolphins and whales being destroyed for meat that is high in lead and not needed by anyone – just to prove a point?
4)Seahorses being destroyed and dried and crushed so that the idiot eating it can try and get some of its magical properties

I am of the view that we should be taking a radical stance. Have you seen “The Cove”? Instead of a few hippies watching the fishermen, if a thousand people went there and beat the living daylights out of every fisherman that tried to kill a dolphin, it would stop.

Sea Shepherds should not stand and talk over the microphone. They should board ships where finning is done and slice off the right hand of everyone there. Do that across the world and I am sure that finning would stop.
I was seeing a client in the Cape Town harbour who was in the fishing industry. He told me that right there a few meters from us in the harbour was a ship piled with shark fins. Dogs were guarding it, and the local South African Harbour Police did not go there because the Chinese Mafia was too strong. This is just plain not acceptable, society should not be tolerating this. We should not be tolerating this.

We are the custodians of the planet, and I am ashamed to be human when I look at the disgraceful way that we are handling this responsibility. Scientists who expose global warming get death threats. Animal populations are destroyed for a quick buck with not one shred of care or compassion. We each have a role to play, and I pray that I find a way to play an effective role that makes a change in this planet and how we treat our fellow occupants of it.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 at 9:54 pm and is filed under Life. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Shared by a friend of Laura Halifax McKenzie

Stop using chimps for experiments

This week chimpanzees are much in the news -- in an op-ed in today's (Thursday) New York Times, on a CNN blog written by Peter Singer, and in movie theatres where the box office smash "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," and the stunningly reviewed "Project Nim" are both challenging audiences to rethink our relationships with the great apes.
>The Thursday, August 11, New York Times includes an op-ed by the Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican representative from Maryland, titled, "Stop Using Chimps as Guinea Pigs."
>It opens with:
>"Before I was elected to Congress, I was a physiologist at the Navys School of Aviation Medicine. For our successful missions to transport men to the moon and return them safely to Earth, I invented a series of respiratory support devices, which we tested on primates, including Baker, a squirrel monkey. Before humans were rocketed into space, Baker was the first primate to survive a trip into space and back; Able, her counterpart on the flight, died from an allergic reaction to an anesthetic during a procedure shortly after the landing.
>"At the time, I believed such research was worth the pain inflicted on the animals. But in the years since, our understanding of its effect on primates, as well as alternatives to it, have made great strides, to the point where I no longer believe such experiments make sense scientifically, financially or ethically. Thats why I have introduced bipartisan legislation to phase out invasive research on great apes in the United States."
>You'll find that full op-ed on line at
>The title of the piece (titles generally being chosen by NY Times writers, not the contributing op-ed writers) while meant to be humorous, points to a problem that we, as advocates for animals, will naturally have with this kind of battle. As Jeremy Bentham so beautifully put it, many years ago, "The question is not 'Can they reason?' nor 'Can they talk?' but rather 'Can they suffer?'" Animals other than chimpanzees truly suffer in laboratories. And even if we were to focus on reasoning and communication, the more we test that in other species, the more we realize our tendency to underrate it. In fact I am moved to share here an interview I came across this week with the captivating scientist Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson in which he discusses the inappropriate hubris with which humans have traditionally treated members of other species. His discussions of the intelligence of dogs, and his half joking comments that the term "bird brain" is destined to become a compliment, are well
>worth listening to. I recommend you check out the interview at
>My intent here is not to detract from the legislation aimed at protecting chimpanzees or from the op-ed supporting that legislation. That legislation will be a blessing for chimpanzees. It will also open the door for future protection for other species. If we protect chimpanzees based on their similarities to us, then how can we fail to protect other animals in the face of increasing evidence that they too, regardless of their size, are like us in many ways? My intent is simply to make sure we don't lose sight of that ultimate goal, and also that we take every opportunity to move towards it. The op-ed in the Times makes way for letters supporting the article and the legislation, but it also gives us the opportunity to note that it is not only chimpanzee testing that is cruel and outdated.
>You can send appreciative letters to the editor to
>Note -- It is important that your letters do not use my words. Please use your own words to speak up for the chimps and for all animals suffering in laboratories. You will influence the thinking of other New York Times readers, plus legislators look to the letters pages as barometers of public opinion, so your letters matter.
>Today's New York Times piece is complimented beautifully by a blog on the CNN site by "Animal Liberation" author, Professor Peter Singer, titled "A Planet for All Apes." Singer discusses two films currently in theatres that deal with our relationships with chimpanzees. We lean that Rupert Wyatt's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" uses no live chimpanzees, with Wyatt noting, "To get apes to do anything you want them to do, you have to dominate them; you have to manipulate them into performing. Thats exploitative."
>We also learn that James Franco plays a scientist who experiments on chimpanzees while seeking a cure for Alzheimers disease. Singer writes:
>"Many films would have glorified a scientist seeking such a goal, and treated the use of animals for that purpose as obviously justified. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, however, portrays Rodman as, in Franco's words, 'a cold, isolated person.'"
>Sounds perfect! I am going to see that film on Saturday. Then on Monday I will see Project Nim, of which you can read the gorgeous reviews at
>Singer ends his piece with:
>"Perhaps the release of these two very different films will lead to a further push to bring great apes within the circle of beings with moral and legal rights. In that way, our closest relatives could serve to bridge the moral gulf that we have dug between ourselves and other animals."
>Note that Singer doesn't point to legal rights for chimpanzees as the end goal but rather as a bridge over the moral gulf. That is an idea explored fully in Steve Wise's classic book, "Rattling the Cage: Towards Legal Rights for Animals." Pick it up.
>You'll find Singer's piece on line at:
>It is well worth reading. Check it out, and please leave a supportive comment. Again -- feedback matters!
>Always include your full name, address, and daytime phone number when sending a letter to the editor. Remember that shorter letters are more likely to be published.
>Yours and the animals',
>Karen Dawn
>(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at You may forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts only if you do so unedited -- leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line.)
>Please go to to check out Karen Dawn's book, "Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way we Treat Animals," which in 2008 was chosen by the Washington Post as one of the "Best Books of The Year!"