Save Our Sharks – Commentary by Captain Alex Cornelissen

Sea Shepherd has a long history of protecting sharks. From the cold waters or the Antarctic to the underwater riches of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, our missions bring us into the most remote and pristine environments. 

These areas that used to teem with wildlife have now become silent.

I remember my first day on a Sea Shepherd vessel almost two decades ago. We set sail from Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, with a destination of New Zealand. As we lifted anchor at midnight and sailed under a full moon, we were accompanied by dolphins riding our bow waves, engulfed in bioluminescence. Less than five hours later, we awoke to retrieve an illegal longline from the protected waters of the marine reserve. For hours our crew worked tirelessly to remove the line and free all wildlife. Luckily it was freshly set, and we were able to rescue a turtle and two sharks. These animals would have undoubtedly died if it hadn’t been for our intervention.

Photo Credit: Michael Geyer / Sea Shepherd

In the following years, we encountered many longlines and released numerous animals, including sharks. Unfortunately, many of them were not lucky enough to survive the ordeal. Longline fishing is a very destructive form of fishing that kills not only sharks but also turtles seabirds and other marine wildlife. Most of the bycatch is discarded at sea, and no catch data is ever recorded. The sheer volume of longline fishing around the world has a devastating impact on wildlife populations. Six out of seven sea turtle species are threatened with extinction due to fisheries. Most seabird populations have dropped dramatically over the past 50 years, almost entirely because of fisheries.

Even in the relatively short time I have been at sea, I witnessed the decline. On our very first trip down to Antarctica to find the Japanese whale poachers, we had on average seven Wandering Albatross accompanying us at any given time on our voyage. Only ten years later, if we were lucky, one. 

The Galapagos is one of the places we would always return to, visiting our friends at the Galapagos National Park Service, whom we have supported and worked with since 2000. But unfortunately, on all of these trips, we would encounter illegal fishing, most often targeting sharks

Sharks continue to be targeted around the world for their fins, as well as squalene and liver oil to be used in useless beauty products and fake health supplements. One of the most significant victories in Sea Shepherd’s history is, without a doubt, the arrest of the Labiko 2 in 2017.

Photo Credit: Simon Ager / Sea Shepherd

This vessel alone was killing approximately half a million sharks every year but has not resumed fishing operations since.

Sea Shepherd has been able to stop poaching wherever we go and give the wildlife the chance to flourish again. Having had the honor to be with Sea Shepherd for nearly 20 years has given me the opportunity to dive in the most amazing places around the world and see many species of sharks up close. The recent news about Darwin’s Arch collapsing reminded me of a dive trip I did 13 years ago. The waters around Darwin’s Arch in the northern part of the Galapagos Islands are some of the richest in the world. Here you could find whale sharks and schools of hundreds of scalloped hammerhead sharks. I remember swimming in these waters, surrounded by an endless number of hammerheads in every direction. Nowadays, the schools are no longer there. They have been fished out on their migratory trips between the protected waters of Galapagos, Cocos Island, and some of the other protected areas in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Just like Darwin’s Arch, shark populations have all collapsed in the region.

Sea Shepherd will work with the governments in the area, providing assistance to stop the illegal fishing, so shark populations will have a chance to rebound. We simply cannot think of an ocean without sharks.

TAKE ACTION NOW

In the United States: Write to your representative and ask them to support the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 2811, to stop the trade of shark fins in the United States.

In Europe: Demand the end of the shark fin trade in the European Union by signing the European Citizens’ Initiative to ban the shark fin trade at: https://www.seashepherdglobal.org/latest-news/citizens-initiative-ban-finning-europe/

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