Extreme times require extreme measures: Shark Warrior launched our anti-shark culling campaign in partnership with African Watersports, which went viral after appearing in Daily Mail UK. Watch the 30 second awareness ad above and the BEHIND THE SCENES below.
South African award winning ocean conservationist, Lesley Rochat, also known as the Shark Warrior due to her passionate efforts in shark conservation, has stripped naked to campaign against shark culling in the ‘Get Hooked on Conservation, Ban Drumlines’ awareness campaign, an initiative of African Watersports and Shark Warrior.
Explains Lesley: “In light of the international outcry by conservationist and scientists against the culling of sharks in Western Australia using drumlines, we decided to turn the spotlight back home. Shark culling is not new in South Africa, the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board have been using shark nets and drumlines for decades – up to 600 sharks plus hundreds of other marine life, including dolphins and whales are caught by these barbaric killing devices every year.
“People from all over the world come to see our sharks and the loss of large sharks such as the tiger shark is having sever negative impacts on the shark eco-tourism business in KwaZulu Natal. This senseless slaughter of our marine life is perpetuated by public fear, a public who know no better. Through the campaign we’re raising public awareness and lobbying against the use of drumlines and shark nets in South Africa, and in Australia.”
Sharks are perceived by most as monsters of the sea with insatiable appetites for humans, thanks largely to the cult movie, ‘Jaws’. But statistics say otherwise: on average less than 10 people are killed annually by sharks worldwide versus up to 100 million sharks that are slaughtered annually.
Irresponsible media that demonizes sharks together with unsustainable fishing practices, in particular the barbaric practice of shark finning, is resulting in the collapse of shark populations worldwide. At the current rate of slaughter many shark species will become extinct within our lifetime.
“Who is the real monster now?” asks Lesley.
Lesley believes that if we have any hope of saving sharks we need to reach the masses who have the power to help. But the general public is caught up in their lives and numb to bad news stories about the environment. They escape life’s pressures via mainstream and social media, and are dominated by its pop culture. They also fear and loathe sharks.
“By using the very mediums and channels that dominate society, and via powerful imagery that promotes a connection between humans and animals, especially through my own relationship with them, I encourage people to see beyond their fear of sharks to seeing the beauty and fragility of sharks, and thus inspire them to help conserve them,” explains Lesley.
South Africa turned to culling sharks when between 1943 and 1951 there were 7 fatal shark bites. Tourism revenue was threatened and the KZN Sharks Board was “charged with the duty of approving, controlling and initiating measures for safeguarding bathers against shark attacks”. Their answer to safe bathing came from Australia where shark culling had already been in place since 1937.
Earlier this year, and following the death of seven people within a period of three years, the WA government led by Premier Colin Barnett, coined Cullin Barnett by conservationists, introduced shark-kill zones off parts of the WA coast. Baited drum lines targeting tiger, bull or great white sharks bigger than three metres, have been deployed off Perth metropolitan beaches since January, followed by a similar rollout in parts of the South West. Sharks longer than three metres caught are shot dead, while smaller sharks are released, though many released sharks are severely wounded and also die.
“This recent culling strategy hales from more than half-a-century ago when environmental awareness was lacking. It’s not based on scientific evidence nor in the promotion of education and awareness, prerequisites of the 21st Century if we have any hope of saving our planet. Political agendas, power, greed and ignorance drive this decision,” says Lesley
The WA trial shark cull program comes to an end on the 30 April 2014 but concern is that the WA government has made a submission to the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to continue the program with the aim of continuing the shark-kill zones using 72 baited drumlines between November and April each year, till 2017.
Back in South Africa the long-entrenched culling devices cost millions of Rands of taxpayers money to maintain. According to the KZN Sharks Board 2012 annual report they received R41,3 million (USA $4.3 million) from a government grant and a further R19,6 million (USA $2 million) from local municipalities.
“Our government’s priorities are horribly flawed, they provide exorbitant amounts of money for the killing of marine life, supposedly in order to save a few human lives, but do not provide grants to AfriOceans, one of the most established marine focused organization in the country I founded in 2003, for the work we do in saving the environment upon which all of its citizens lives depend upon,” says Lesley.
“Most of the money received by KZN Sharks Board goes into their shark fishing component of their business, while comparatively little goes to education, awareness and scientific research. More than 10 years ago they were researching alternative beach safety devices with many more years of research before they get any conclusive answers needed to satisfy the removal of the nets and drumlines.
“But when the KZN Sharks Board’s very existence is founded on fear of sharks, replacing fear of sharks with awe and wonder and the need to conserve them would be like shooting themselves in the foot, putting themselves out of business,” believes Lesley.
Fuelled by this, the passionate conservationists joined up with Walter Bernardis, owner of African Watersports to develop a follow up on their previous anti-shark net campaign, ‘Catches Anything, Kills Everything.’ Walter who was the creative director of the campaign explains: “It’s very difficult to portray a shark as an animal that needs saving given what they look like and the negative perception people have of them. So by putting something beautiful in the hook we aim to attract attention to the fact that sharks are also beautiful animals that deserve our protection.
“Unfortunately we only conserve what we love, we only love what we understand and we only understand what we are taught and at the moment, when it comes to sharks, all we’re taught is fear. How can we hope to get people to love sharks if everywhere we look fear is drummed down everyone’s throat?” says Walter.
The team recognizes the importance of human safety but culling of wild animals they believe is not the answer.
“The ocean is the domain of the sharks and we are merely guests in their world. We have no right just because a few of us get killed by sharks annually to go out and start suffocating and shooting sharks to death. It’s like visiting another country where a few fellow South African tourists have been killed and then seeking revenge by shooting innocent people. It’s called murder,” says Lesley.