Day 31 7/26/2013: The Turtles of Chinatown

First: Good news for Sharks Today. New York signed its Shark Fin Ban into law today.

I went to L.A.’s Chinatown today to see if I could see shark fin for sale anywhere after California’s ban.  I saw dried sea horses, dried starfish, dried octopus. I found one bag of what looked like shark fin, but the price seemed very low and the man who ran the shop was asleep behind the counter. I checked a couple restaurant menus and didn’t see shark fin soup.

Then I saw the turtles—tiny, illegal baby red slider turtles in an ounce of water or so —little plastic “aquariums” outfitted with tiny plastic islands $4, $6, $7–every single one struggling endlessly against a plastic wall.

I thought of Sysiphus pushing his boulder up the hill—of the seemingly endless instances of animal suffering in the world. I wondered how or I could (or if I should) develop tougher psychic armor so as not to get completely depressed when I see doomed lobsters in restaurant tanks, pet stores with dirty aquariums overflowing with baby rabbits, chicks and ducklings. (I did report that pet shop to the SPCA).

As I walked around the gift stores I felt my own sense of futility: No matter how much their captivity depressed me, I couldn’t release these turtles into the wild. I remembered a ranger at Franklin Canyon telling me how often people let Chinatown turtles go in the lake there and screw up the ecosystem. The babies can carry salmonella, which is why I think the sale of these turtles is illegal. They also grow to be pretty big, a fact that is seldom disclosed by the vendors in these odd gift shops.

The guy at the pet shop near my house recommended that I call a reptile rescue and report the vendors to animal control. His shop is overrun with donated (adult) red sliders that they are now selling at a discount.

But there is another dilemma: if I buy the turtles in Chinatown and give them to the rescue, does that mean I am encouraging those vendors to purchase more of them? I left messages with a couple herpetology rescues and eagerly await their guidance. In the meantime, I worked on organizing the “Jaws” benefit.

7/25/2013: Day 30: Shameless Re-blogging

I discovered this SWELL shark blog on Tumbler called Shark Hugger.

It’s fun, eclectic AND best of all they’ve assembled a ton of shark petitions for you to sign

I also ordered a new shirt from the wonderful Pelagic Shark Research Foundation of Santa Cruz.  I get tons of compliments on my long-sleeved dark blue PSF shirt with its distinctive shark logo. I’ve had the shirt for way over a decade and it STILL  looks great, but I wanted to order a new one for a friend.  I’ve found that wearing my Pelagic shirt or my shark necklace ALWAYS starts conversations.

Many, many people don’t even know sharks are endangered.  Wearing a shirt or jewelry (though not necklaces made from real shark teeth, of course), is a simple, natural way to enlighten people about the plight of sharks without the conversation feeling too heavy or didactic.

Plus, all proceeds from merchandise directly help PSF’s shark conservation and education programs.

7/24/2013: Day 29: A Shark Miscellany

Things I would blog about if I wasn’t overwhelmed with fatigue:

1. The shark attack in Brazil captured on video

2. Reflections on a shark’s mouth being a gateway to another world (with much credit and admiration given to Joseph Campbell).

3. The complex emotions aroused in me by a shark attack

4.This line from Neil Shubin’s book “Your Inner Fish”: “Basically, we’re all modified sharks.”

5. How Shubin explains that divergent forms of the bones that support the upper and lower jaws in sharks, help us swallow and hear. The muscles and nerves that we use to talk and swallow move the gills in sharks and other fish.

6. The otherness and fear evoked by a shark attack juxtaposed with the fact that way back deep in the mystery of all things, sharks and people were sort of one

7. How a great white hijacked a whale watching expedition and how much I wish I had been onboard.

8. My action today: 8 signatures on the epic Shark Defenders petition.

Day 28: 7/23/2013: Sharks: Feel The Poetry

Today I bought some shark educational materials for the Fall semester. I wanted to memorize which shark belongs to which family. Instead of studying, I became swept up in the beauty of names–all these sharks I’d never heard of:

the blind shark, the tasselled wobbegong, the false, the graceful, the grinning, ghost, honeycomb and lollipop cat sharks

and among the requiems: the blackspot, the dagger nose, the milk shark, the nervous shark, the night shark, the pondicherry, the hardnose, the big nose, the spinner

not to mention the sawback, hidden, ornate and angular angelsharks or the unforgettable dusky, sharpnose, sharp fin, whiskery, western spotted gummy, the flapnose, and humpback hound sharks

Did you know the smallest shark is the dwarf lantern (6.7 inches)?

Or that hound sharks hunt in packs or

that a school of hammerheads is also called a shoal or a shiver?

Wobbegongs are excellent ambushers

and once someone found

a doll inside a tiger shark

Day 27: 7/22/2013: Sharkitecture

Today, I welcomed a new class of International students at Sci-Arc, an architecture school where I teach ESL in the summer. As an icebreaker, I had them ask each other a series of questions including a gem I stole from my own writing teacher:

“If faced with your potential end, would you rather confront a bear or a shark?”

These answers reveal how deeply weird our relationship to other creatures can be. Students who chose death by bear over shark gave these reasons:

1. “The bear is cuter.”

2. “The bear is more like a person.”

3. “Getting killed by a shark is all salty and it hurts.”

A few people had enough confidence in themselves as swimmers to believe:

1. “I might be able to swim faster than a shark.”

Others reasoned that death by shark would be quicker and more merciful than being scalped by a bear:

2. “The shark will just bite my head off and it will be over.”

To make sure the conversation didn’t get too sensational, I informed that students that human beings kill about 100 million sharks a year and sharks kill, oh I don’t know…a half dozen people or something.

I wish I had studied anthrozoology and could compile data like this for a living.

After class, I did get five friends to sign my slowly evolving Shark Defenders petition.

Day 26: July 21, 2013: Dirty, Sexy “Jaws”

famous poster

I’m writing a blog entry for Sharksavers about the Jaws charity event.

My original copy of “Jaws” is so old and well-loved, the spine is nearly demolished. I keep trying to locate key moments like Alex Kintner being yanked off his raft, but the ravaged paperback, as if possessed by an X-rated daemon flips open to a lurid sex passage.

On page 104, Benchley gives a description of Ellen Brody’s nipple-revealing “diaphanous nightgown” and tells us that her husband (Roy Scheider in the movie) returns from the bathroom “tumescent.” Ellen, however has taken a sleeping pill. She drifts off as Brody grumbles “I’m not very big on screwing corpses.” The rather poetic “tumescence” (the “tomb” sound underscoring Brody’s doomed chances) becomes a frank and embarrassing “dwindling erection.”

When I read this book as a pre-adolescent kid, (at least a dozen times between 1975 and 1976)  the sex scenes were as disturbing to me as the shark attacks.  Sometimes as with Brody’s “screwing corpses” comment, the two themes merged.  A memorable and lengthy description of Brody urinating recalled the shark “spewing foam and blood and phosphorescence in a gaudy shower,” as he chomped on poor Chrissie in the opening chapter.

Castro saw “Jaws” as a critique of capitalism, but maybe the novel with all its adultery and frustration, is an even better allegory for all-consuming desire, and the awkwardness of bodily love, gross fluids and all.

Day 25: 7/20/2013: Cast a Vote for Sharks

I have to admit, the nominees for Oceana’s Ocean Hero awards make my efforts feel more than a little bit hodge-podge and patchwork!  All of them–adults and children alike– are doing important work for the ocean, but here is a roundup of my new shark gurus:

Yale grad student Leah Meth helped win protections for sharks and rays at CITES with her creative and incredibly successful Shark Stanley Project.

Dr. Neil  Hammerschlag’s shark tagging program at the University of Miami gives at-risk high school students an opportunity to experience “full immersion” shark research.

8-year-old shark lover Sean Lesniak helped create a bill in the Massachusetts state legislature that would impose stiffer penalties on shark finning.

You can vote for candidates in both the junior and adult categories here.

The deadline is July 26.