Cristina Zenato
Cristina Zenato

Aug 05. 3 mins

IT’S JUST CATCH AND RELEASE

I woke up this morning to two different news, both involving animals but one very different from the other.

One article highlighted how in Australia a man was convicted of animal cruelty for shooting an arrow through a cat’s head, while the other article hailed as winners and incredible feat the capture of a nearly 450 kgs (1000 lbs) Mako off the New Jersey coast.

Our perception of animal cruelty seems to be radically different between certain animals and more specifically between marine animals and land animals unless marine mammals are involved.

Shooting a cat in the head is obviously an unacceptable and cruel behavior, a senseless act of violence. On the other end, why is it then acceptable to slaughter such an incredible animal, like the Mako, one top predator, a big animal as well, that we know is so needed in the reproductive system and furthermore hang it in such brutal display of victory? Victory over what? A powerless animal dragged around by the power of engines and high technology gear until there is no fight left in it?

How is our perception of animal cruelty so different? What are the mechanisms in our collective minds that allow hailing one action as positive and the other one as unacceptable?
The general attitude towards fish, sharks, included is that they are mindless creatures, without emotions and incapable of feeling pain.

A recent video on the internet shows a father hooking a shark on a fishing line and dragging the animal closer to the kayak for the young son to see. It is in a way a sweet action by this dad, he shows the shark to the kid, pulls its head out of the water, takes the video and images, pauses and talks to his son; after a while, he releases the shark and tells the kid to say goodbye to the shark.

An understandable moment for many, a sweet moment as described by the comments below the video, ultimately a positive moment because the caught shark is released in the end. It’s a good lesson for son, he has encountered the shark, and the animal has not been killed, the words expressed by the dad are actually positive. In the collective, this is a win-win situation, both for the shark and the kid. The video and the story end there.

But in this alternative scenario the kid arrives home, helps his dad put away the gear and the kayak and grabs the same fishing rod, walks down the street and starts to hook the cats in the neighborhood. Could be cats, could be dogs, could be birds, any terrestrial animal.

He tricks these animals into biting the hook with some morsels of food, then drags them across the pavement and once he has them, he sticks them in a bucket to take some pictures of each one. When he is done with the images, he then cuts the line and lets these animals go back to their day to day life with hooks handing off their face somewhere.

The sole thought of said actions would make any person’s skin crawl. I am sure anybody witnessing such behavior would bring the kid to a psychologist afraid they are now witnessing the future Ted Bundy in the making. His actions would be perceived as cruel and savage. Ultimately the kid has learned the behavior from his dad, but also from the society which condones such behavior towards sea creatures and even more towards sharks. It has become fashionable to hook and drag them across the beach for the opportunity of taking a picture with the animal. People straddle the animal, kneel by it, take a picture while the shark is gasping for oxygen and while the pull of gravity crashes its organs one against the other, as they don’t have a rib cage to keep the organs protected from their weight. They don’t need a rib cage; they live in a neutral world, not on the beach. This defined sport is socially accepted because the animal is later released. It’s just catch and release. What these images and videos don’t show is the fact that many of these sharks as so stressed from the traumatic event, injured and hurt that days later they end up dead down the coastline somewhere.

The core of this issue is that the perception of our actions and the attitude towards sea creatures and especially sharks need to change.

There is still a widespread belief that sharks are swimming nervous systems looking for meat to consume. It is not uncommon to read and hear opinions highlighting how sharks deserve this treatment; it’s payback from humans because sharks bite and eat humans all the time when we enter the ocean. Numbers and popular beliefs are very incongruent. It has been proven that sharks attacks are extremely rare and even more so, fatal attacks, to maybe five per year. If we compare the number of people entering the water in some specific areas and the presence of sharks, it is very obvious even without specific numbers that sharks are not interested in humans and the few and far between negative encounters are part of the risk we take in entering their world. Sharks are no mindless eating machines. They are cleaners; they are vital to the balance of the ecosystems they live in.

Shark diving tourism adds value to live sharks and helps the economies of those countries where sharks are present and protected

We need to change this narrow-minded vision of such an evolved and complex creature. A creature with seven senses, two more than what we display as humans, a creature that has survived five natural mass extinctions and yet has been depleted from our oceans faster than ever in the last fifty years by human activity. An uneducated general belief that fastens the word shark in one bundle and that does not understand that saying sharks is like saying birds. Each one different from the other, shaped differently, living in such different environments and feeding in so many different ways.

We need to start looking at sharks for what they are, and what they do, first and foremost we need to bring them back to the status of animals, of a creature of nature, not monsters, not machines. There are no shark infested waters, these waters are their world, not ours and they interact in their world in a way that keeps it balanced and healthy. It’s time for humans to approach the concept of cruelty at all levels and not only where our pets or favorite cute animals are concerned.

An arrow through a cat head is as bad as a gaff through the head of a shark dragged to its death for the sole purposed of trophy display.

Maybe it’s time we really listen to Henry Beston and change our views and actions towards animals, sharks:

“We patronize the animals for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they are more finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”

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