Day 40: 8/4/2013: Shark Angels in Santa Monica

After spending the afternoon at a popular seaside tourist destination, I have one, single burning question:

How can shirtless men wear backpacks? Don’t the straps pinch? What about sweat? I’m no fashion maven, but that look is just…WOW…not..good….

Anyway, I had misgivings go to an aquarium. It seems somewhat hypocritical to protest the circus and then support so-called “aqua-prisons,” but Julie Andersen of Shark Angels was giving a talk at the Santa Monica Aquarium and so I paid my five bucks.  The little shallow tank of leopard  and swell sharks that allows kids to touch them, sort of bummed me out, although one of the leopards actually lifted (her?) head out of the water when I approached and I made eye contact with her.

DIGRESSION ABOUT THE AWKWARD DAWNING OF SEXUAL KNOWLEDGE: As a child, of course, the New England Aquarium was mecca to me. I loved the circular tank with the snuggle-toothed sand sharks. I remember once buying a postcard of a sea otter in the gift shop of the NEA in 1976. Otters can stand on their hind legs, and this guy clearly had an erection, captured in the lurid sort of messy color of the old 60s/70s postcard. “He has a hard on!” shrieked my sister’s friend Denise. It was the first time I ever heard the term.

Okay, enough nostalgia. Julie Andersen has gone free diving with tigers, ocean white tips, bull sharks, and whale sharks and probably a dozen other species. “And I still have all my fingers and toes,”  she quipped. The footage of her dives were exciting—the whale sharks were reassuring giants, one of the great whites had a furious criss-cross of scars across his snout (from bouts with frantic pinnipeds, perhaps), the oceanic white tip seemed to enjoy Julie’s swimming, which resembles a fluid, undulating dance. Julie did warn parents about one graphic section of the film—“a tiger shark eating a turtle.” The tiger had jammed his face inside the empty shell. He wore it like a mask, shaking the shell and loosening strands of gray flesh that streamed out through the long gone critter’s arm and leg holes.

Julie’s mission really impressed me. The woman has TRAVELED not just diving, doing undercover work in the dark world of shark finning, educating kids about shark conservation from Fiji to Watts. She mentioned how poor coastal communities are devastated by the “boom and bust” shark finning operations that set up shop, ruin local ecosystems and move on.

After the lecture, I chatted with Julie and a couple other Shark Angels. I hope to work with them in the near future doing SOMETHING. Julie’s work gave me a glimpse into the world of shark activism beyond petitions, etc. Hard, important, dangerous, heartbreaking, beautiful, glamorous globe-trotting activism!

I also found 25 kind souls on the Santa Monica Pier to sign my petition. I grew desperate around name 17.  I saw a man in a John Lennon t-shirt and shouted, “John Lennon is the reason I do any activism at all! He would want you to sign my petition!” The kind man and his wife ambled over, slightly embarrassed. “Well, if you’re going to invoke John Lennon…..”

I tried this same spiel with a pre-teen girl clad in a handsome Beatles shirt and she looked at me as if I’d enthusiastically advocated roasting babies in a public square. This activism is clearly a learning process.

P.S. I spotted a stack of SeaWorld pamphlets at a tourist spot and chucked them in a recycling bin. Just because.

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