Day 92: 9/25/13: Afternoon with a Shark Legend

I am still ecstatic from Ralph Collier’s lecture this afternoon at Glendale College this afternoon. Great turn out–students, teachers from all disciplines, and people from outside school–including one dazzled shark nerd in a Jaws t-shirt who sat in the front row, and my dear friend Lisa and her fellow shark fanatic pal, Jack.

Ralph covered some fascinating stuff about shark behavior including “spy hopping” in which white sharks (and apparently oceanic white tips) stick their heads out of the water to check out what’s happening on land and sometimes startle random seals off the edges of rookeries. They also spy hop to calculate which group of seals in the haul-out area might be easiest to sweep into the water via a giant breach. Essentially, I learned that white sharks ain’t dummies. Not by a long shot. They have memories. They make calculated decisions. Ralph doesn’t believe in calling shark encounters “accidents”–he gives the animals volition—whether the intent is to investigate or to launch a predatory strike.

I learned two more disturbing consequences of shark finning:

1. When the discarded bodies of finned sharks are thrown overboard, they sink to the bottom where ammonia leaking from their ravaged bodies destroys coral communities.

2. Increasing numbers of people in Asia who consume shark fin soup are developing neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and A.L.S.  Researchers have proposed that the high concentrations of mercury in shark fin and flesh bind with other neurotoxins and create a lethal toxic compound. Could this new health concern become a powerful force in stopping finning?

Ralph stayed long after the Q&A ended and chatted with Jack, Lisa and me.

I wanted to ask so many things: What did he think of OCEARCH? What about activists that free dive with tiger sharks and great whites? But we ran out of time.   Ralph  was so gracious and fun, I am hoping that he will come to the JAWS charity event for Sharksavers in February. He said the best way to fight shark finning is not voting at CITIES , (since those protection votes will simply be bought by Asian fishing interests) but to work on stopping the demand.  That made me glad I’ll be doing work for Sharksavers, whose publicity campaigns in Asia strike at the roots of the problem.

I felt completely renewed and full of new focus and enthusiasm. How lucky to finally  meet the man whose name I’d seen in every shark attack book I’d read in my Jaws-crazed childhood. Forgive the corniness, but today was truly a shark dream come true.

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