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Shark Week returned recently on the Discovery Channel, filling TVs across the world with mini-docs, reruns of “Jaws”, and an abundance of Australian accents.
Originally premiering July 17, 1988, Shark Week is television’s longest running summer event, and was created to support conservation efforts and shatter misconceptions about sharks.
According to OCEARCH’s helpful online tracking tool, we can see that there are currently at least eight tracked sharks off the coast of Atlantic Canada. Hal, the 12-foot-six-inch white shark has been hanging out around Shelburne, while the slightly smaller Brunswick, measuring in at eight-feet-nine-inches has been making himself at home in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. While this may be slightly jarring for some beach-lovers, this tracking is actually quite important to all of us on land.
Scientists like the members of OSEARCH are collecting data with the aim of returning our oceans to their former balance and, thanks to the Internet, we’re able to share in this exciting journey as it happens. The OCEARCH research team conducts expeditions aboard the M/V OCEARCH, a ship complete with an at-sea laboratory and a hydraulic platform that allows researchers to safely lift marine animals out of the ocean without being harmed. In less than 15 minutes, with minimal stress to the animal, OCEARCH researchers are able to collect more than 12 samples and attach tags to track the shark for future research.
As the apex predator of the ocean, white sharks in particular are the balance-keepers of the ecosystem, central to the maintenance of biodiversity. The data collected by OCEARCH and other marine researchers is key for the future of global conservation.
My love of sharks began in 2006, when documentarian Rob Stewart released his film, “Sharkwater.” An investigation into humankind’s destruction of shark species worldwide, “Sharkwater” examines the importance of sharks to our ecosystem while also offering an up close and personal view of their beauty. The documentary bonded me and my sister in a shared passion for these incredible creatures which continues to this day.
Stewart tragically lost his life while filming his third documentary, “Sharkwater: Extinction”, but his legacy of shark conservation lives on through the Sharkwater team and the millions of supporters who were touched by his eye-opening work.
While many conservationists dismiss Shark Week as an exploitative money-grab that does more harm than good, Stewart disagreed.
“We know a lot of conservationists loathe Shark Week, but we are leery to make that blanket statement. Many of us gained a fascination for sharks thanks to these shows,” he once explained in an interview. “For one week of the year, the world puts its undivided attention on sharks. Is that an entirely bad thing? We think not. Sure, we would like even more conservation programming, but we also know that conservation doesn’t always draw people in. And, in fact, we know a whole new generation is watching these shows right now and becoming inspired to get involved saving sharks.”
In Rob’s memory, I soak in as much shark content as possible, and make my annual donation to the Rob Stewart Sharkwater Foundation. If you’d like to do the same, visit sharkwater.com for more information.
Jill Ellsworth is a writer and communications specialist who lives in Dominion, N.S. Her column appears biweekly across the SaltWire Network. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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