As most of our readers know, we have previously reported our intended coverage and call to action against the Montauk Shark Tournament and the subsequent death threats we have received. The authorities have been involved, and thank you for those who expressed concern. The local papers even caught wind of the situation. We are serious New Yorkers who are not afraid of standing up for what we believe in...and the public is taking note, slowly but surely. CNN just covered another shark tournament asking viewers "Sport of animal abuse?".
On June 14, 2008 we headed out to Montauk, New York to cover the 22nd annual Montauk Shark Tournament at the Star Island Yacht Club. Montauk is located in the Hamptons (although technically not a “Hampton”) at the end of Long Island, about a 3 hour drive from New York City. It’s actually a quaint, laid back and beautiful beach getaway for New Yorkers that I’ve visited for many years. I’ve known about the Montauk shark fishing tournament for years, but never understood the scale and gravity of the event prior to being contacted by the Humane Society of America. This is arguably the largest shark tournament in the US, rivaled possibly only by the Oak Bluffs tournament held in Martha’s Vineyard. In 2007 the Humane Society successfully shut down another large American shark tournament in Destin Florida. During the 2006 event, a mutilated Hammerhead shark was put on display as children watched in horror. The board of directors of the Destin shark tournament were shamed by the negative publicity generated by the Humane Society, journalists, and other concerned citizens. As they say, an image is worth a thousand words, and thankfully the Destin tournament ceased to exist. The organizers of the Montauk shark tournament must have taken this fact to heart, and confronted all the photographers shooting the event and threatened to remove us from the event because it was in fact held on private property. Remember the old adage “any publicity is good publicity”? Well, apparently not for shark tournaments.
$761,700 was the prize pool for the "Calcutta Prizes", which is essentially
the equivalent of horse betting. Only, no sharks win this race.
A shark's tail fin was cut off and immediately passed around to
show the impressionable children who jammed the front row
It was Father’s Day weekend at the Montauk shark tournament. Parents brought their children to stand in the front row to witnesses the brutal mutilation of these beautiful, perfectly designed animals. Many of the children, still very young and innocent, observed the massacre with looks that I can only define as equal part fear and curiosity. Of course there were some that think slicing sharks open end to end, watching the blood drain out on the pier and tossing most of the body parts in a bull dozer for removal is “cool”. But the reality is that they are doing so with an endorsement from their parents that this brutal act is morally acceptable. Would these parents allow their young children to watch hunters bring in deer or cattle for public beheading and dismemberment? Throughout the day the emcee also handed out coloring books to the kids, and announced facts about each species of shark. Ultimately this would be the only “education” that these young impressionable minds would receive regarding the sharks that they witnessed being butchered.
This year the winning catch was a beautiful 353 pound thresher shark. Most of the sharks entered were thresher, blue or mako sharks. Two tiger sharks weighing in at 436 pounds and 515 pounds respectively were brought in too late to be entered into the competition. Rumor has it that ironically the boat was caught in a discarded fishing net and hence the late arrival. From my questioning the fishermen, they all caught and released an exponentially greater number of sharks than would be brought back to shore. Only the largest would be entered into the competition. A quick scan of online fishing forums confirms that up 20 blue sharks were caught and released by many boats prior to deciding on which specimen to enter into the tournament. Of course most of these sharks would later die, despite the claim by tournament organizers that catch & release is an ethical activity. I must admit that after speaking with the fishermen, they are not blood thirsty killers or twisted unmoral people. They are regular Joes like you and me, and are simply ignorant to the plight of these animals. To them, sharks are simply big fish that are plentiful and on the earth for man to eat. Yet, these creatures are no longer plentiful, nor is the intention of their removal providing sustenance. Shark tournaments simply provide the thrill of a hunt, and prizes for the largest carcass. To combat this perception the tournaments publicly offer some of the edible sharks to local churches and food banks. One of the largest, Long Island Cares, has formally turned down the free offerings due to the unethical way in which the food is acquired. The tournaments also provide shark researches with access to the sharks in order to record information on size, diet and population, but the researchers confirm that this data can be acquired otherwise.
The Real Life Jaws
The character Quint from the movie Jaws was based on Frank Mundas, a shark hunter from Montauk, New York, who holds the record for the largest great white shark ever caught – a 4,500 pounder in 1964. Captain Mundus was in attendance at the 2008 Montauk shark tournament, selling autographed pictures and promoting a new fishing hook that he claims would be safer for the large number of sharks that are caught and released. Many of the released sharks will die from injuries caused by being hooked, often having these hooks lodged in their stomachs or ripping their face and jaws apart, which prevents the ability to eat. Captain Mundas himself attests to this fact. Admission of some of the issues is the beginning of a solution. One of the bystanders at the Montauk shark tournament commented that she was excited because she has never seen a live shark before, well, that fact hasn’t changed after the tournament.
Shark Tournaments in America
100 million to 1 - This is the ratio of sharks to humans killed by one another in 2007. The average number of human fatalities for the last two decades, per the International Shark Attack File, was five. Compare that to the average of eighteen annual fatalities from dogs, and you have more to fear from Fido than you do from Jaws. However, the movie Jaws will forever hold its place as a cultural legend and has led to the demonization and decimation of a species that is essential for the world’s largest ecosystem that we depend on to function properly. Since the 1975 release of Jaws, the media has sensationalized shark attacks. If a tourist gets mauled by a grizzly bear in the woods, society doesn’t blame the bear – we may have Yogi or Smokey to thank for that image. But if you step foot in the ocean and get bit by a shark, a media outcry and ratings grab ensues. Although there has been an increase in documented shark attacks over time, it does not represent an increase in shark populations. In fact quite the opposite is true. This statistic represents the ever growing human population and the amount of time we spend in the ocean. Additionally, the information age has brought about a more efficient process of reporting and documenting these instances, so in reality these numbers may have even dropped over time due to historical under reporting. There is no way to truly claim accuracy in historical figures. What we do know is that certain shark species have been depleted by over 90% in the last several decades, so a decline in incidents is possible. Governments around the world are introducing and approving legislation to limit and even ban shark fishing, such as the recently passed 2008 Shark Conservation Act in the US. In an era of environmental need, the media and humanity may claim to think green, but we are failing at our responsibility to prevent history from repeating itself, still approaching every ecosystem with the mindset of eminent domain. The thousands of sharks caught in the summertime tournaments up and down the eastern seaboard is a testament to that.
The Humane Society of the United States flew a banner around the area
all day long calling to "End The Cruel Shark Tournament Now!"
The Humane Society hopes to be successful at shutting
down yet another large shark tournament
Scientists and researchers have increasingly looked to scuba divers and underwater photographers the world over as additional eyes and ears into the ocean. We are becoming more active and involved in creating awareness of the plight and decimation of global shark populations. Sharks are particularly important because they are a vital apex predator, and depending on your perspective, they are either part of the balanced equation of natural selection or part of the ‘intelligent design’ of the world. The primary focal issue regarding sharks is the illegal and unethical trade of their valuable fins, demand of which is driven primarily from Asia. The status symbol that shark fin soup represents has become increasingly accessible by a growing middle and upper class throughout Asia. A significant portion of the supply of shark fin is often from South & Central American waters, where year after year millions of sharks are finned alive and thrown back into the ocean to die a slow and violent death. The recent movie Shark Water documented the alleged involvement of the Hong Kong and Taiwanese mafia. The shark fin trade today is the equivalent of the ivory trade prior to the 1989 ban, which has since protected the animals that produce it.
However, there is another danger looming for sharks right in our own back yards – the American shark tournaments. These events glorify the violent death of the largest, healthiest individuals from local populations. Combine this with slow reproductive maturity, a small number of offspring, additional removal from the ecosystem due to commercial by-catch, sport fishing, and illegal finning, and the result is a recipe for disaster for these vital apex predators. Even the shark fishermen themselves will be the first to admit that year after year the size of the sharks they haul in have been shrinking progressively.
When we see a shark removed from the ocean and killed, we see the perceived threat, created by the media, eliminated. It is important to maintain the balance of the food chain by redirecting our fears and recognizing that they are unwarranted. Rather than arrogantly assuming the ocean is the domain of man, we must respect the animals that represent our future. We should only be afraid when they disappear, because we may be next.
- The 36th Annual Freeport Hudson Anglers Tournament will be held on Saturday June 21, 2008 at the Guy Lombardo Marina Freeport, Long Island, New York.
- The Oaks Bluff Tournament will be held on July 17 - 19, on Martha's Vineyard Island, Mass.
- Here a list of other tournaments
Boycott the sponsors of these tournaments. Most are fishing related companies, but so far we have also discovered Captial One, Miller Lite, and Trump's Marina Casino Hotel - SHAME ON THEM! Boycott these brands! We have also just discovered that Quiznos & ESPN2 have a smoke & mirrors shark tournament series called "Quiznos Madfin" that claims to be friendly to the sharks because it is all catch & release. Boycott Quiznos & ESPN! Since Disney owns ESPN, dump Disney stock and tell everyone you know who cares about the ocean and the environment do the same - let's get serious about this!
Support the ocean by writing letters. Quiznos must back out of the ESPN2 "Madfin" shark tournament. It is unacceptable. Email Quiznos here.
ESPN is owned by Disney, we must let them know that this is unacceptable and that we will dump their stock and persuade as many others to do so as well. Email Disney investor relations and let them know how you feel!
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