Sharks

January 2, 2011

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What do Harry Potter, Brahmin Priests and Jimmy Buffett have in common?

Sharks.

“Fins to the left. Fins to the Right. And you’re the only bait in town.”

Jimmy Buffet had a point when he compared sharks to the guy at the bar with the creepy pick-up line. Sharks represent the universal fear of those dangers that lurk out of sight –while the creepy guy represents the universal fear of making a really, really bad dating decision. Maybe that is why the name for a group of sharks is “shiver.”

The Great White Shark is the creature most feared by humans. Here’s why. A shark’s favorite prey is anything in a vertical posture making spastic movements. Treading water? There you go.  Thirty percent of the shark’s brain is about scent signals. Scratch your arm on the rocks while boogey-boarding? Sharks can smell your blood from half a mile away. Biggest menace on the coast of California? Nope, not the guy at the bar. Sharks.

And it doesn’t help to know the stories: 300 Persians eaten by sharks when King Xerxes’ Persian invasion fleet wrecked off the Greek coast in the fifth century B.C., a delightful fact supplied to us by the great historian Herodotus.  Or, the one about the sixteenth- century sailor found completely intact in a shark’s stomach. At that time, sharks were known by the more benevolent name of “sea-dogs,” but I doubt that mattered to either the sailor, or to the two South African surfers eaten—whole—by sharks a few years ago. How about the discovery by a zoologist that the embryos of sand sharks attack each other while in the womb, leaving only the victor to find its way into the birth canal? How did the zoologist discover this? He was attacked and bitten by an embryo while he was dissecting the mother shark. (Although, one might argue in favor of the embryo if someone is dissecting his mother).

In Hawaiian myth, god-like shark-men appear mysteriously on shore and are scorned and ridiculed when they warn beachgoers of sharks in the water. Why would anyone ridicule and ignore a warning from a god-like shark man about sharks? Could this really be a story about respecting the presence of sharks?

Over 100 million sharks are killed every year in recreational and commercial fishing. The most heinous of this killing is about soup. Soup. Shark’s fin soup is considered a delicacy in China. The sharks are caught and hauled onto the boat, all their fins cut off, tossed back into the sea—alive and completely paralyzed–to sink helplessly to the bottom of the ocean and drown. For soup. Why do humans not show awe and wonder in the presence of the biggest predator on the planet? If we kill—and slurp– them all, will the universal fear of those dangers that lurk out of sight – the fear we humans have projected onto the shark– disappear?

Brahmin priests cast stupefying spells on sharks to protect pearl divers. If a stupefying spell works for Harry Potter and Brahmin priests, perhaps it will also work for the creepy guy at the bar. Let’s be stupefied with awe at these 300-toothed ancient wonders, and leave those fins where they belong- on the left and right of the shark.

Rae Ann Kumelos, Ph.D.

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Copyright @ 2009, 2016 Voice of the Animal.  All Rights Reserved.

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Dragons- That hiss you hear is not a kitty cat

September 10, 2017

From Wales to Westeros, here there be dragons!

Dragons are universal in myths of all cultures-  – but when was the last time YOU saw one? (Game of Thrones and Pete the Dragon don’t count……….).

There’s many a tale of people seeing dragons, yet there’s no proof – no skeleton or photo or any  jeweled sparkly scales passed down as a family heirloom.

There may not be any proof, but rumor has it there are four types of dragons: fire, earth, air and water. The most famous fire dragon involves the wizard Merlin, who had a vision of fire dragons and an epic battle between the white dragon of the Saxons and red dragon of Britain. Britain’s dragon won and it is said that “milkmaids fled at the first hiss of its wing beat.” The Celts used the word ‘dragon’ for chief, and over time, they became melded together. Slay a chief in battle, then you have slayed a ‘dragon.’ When Arthur’s father, Uther, had a vision of a flaming dragon, he took the name of Pendragon- head of the dragon – and so began the image of a dragon featured on the herald of Britain’s greatest kings. King Arthur was known for the fiery dragon ‘blazing on is helmet as he rode forth to do battle.” Since the Tudor kings claimed to be descended from Uther and Arthur, they too featured the dragon on their herald; it still dwells today on the badge of the principality of Wales.

Earth dragons were invoked by ancient druids to guard the buried treasure of chieftains and warriors and were considered guardians of the threshold. In The Hobbit, the dragon Smaug guards the gold too. Psychologically, they can be thought of as guarding our own inner treasure and wisdom. Air dragons are messengers of the sky god – comets were often thought of as fire-breathing dragons with bright heads and forked tails.

The Chinese consider Water dragons most auspicious as they control rainfall, hurricanes and floods, while the Buddhist mystic Nagarjuna (naga means dragon)  was given the sacred texts of the Mahayana Sutras by nagas of the undersea kingdom.

The 200 pound Komodo Dragon of Indonesia is a real dragon. They can’t fly, but they can outrun a human and smell blood from 5 miles away. The Buginese fisherman who share Komodo National Park with the dragons do so very carefully- no milkmaids hear the hiss of wings– but the people live on homes of stilts, avoid going out at night, and do not wear red since it can be mistaken for blood.

J.R.R. Tolkien did not wish to have dragons in his neighborhood, but he did write that “ the world that contained even the imagination of dragons was richer and more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril.”

That is a sentiment that ancient kings, Game of Thrones fans, and the Buginese fisherman can all share.

Visit us at www.voiceoftheanimal.com  or Animal Radio Network on XM Satellite and over 140 local stations nationwide to hear an audio version of this story. Enjoy our lovely new theme music, courtesy of Dr. Josh Ottum with the Commercial Music department at Bakersfield College.

 

Tradition and Harp Seals

March 10, 2010

By Rae Ann Kumelos, Ph.D.

As the early Spring sun glistens on the sea of ice, a baby harp seal softly cries, the sound of the other pups in the seal nursery of snow and ice echoing her own. Her coat is like spun sugar – fluffy and pure white, not yet marked with the distinctive harp sign that distinguishes her parents.  The seal has not yet had her first swim, in these early days of life she can only crawl. Utterly helpless from predators, she stays huddled close to the other seals in the snowy nursery.  As the man approaches, she looks up, liquid brown eyes curious; she has not seen this creature before. As the hooked club crashes into her skull again and again, her last sight on this pristine spring day is that of the other seal pups struggling to crawl away from the dozens of men with weapons, while rivers of red blood run through the crushed ice.

Some might say this is a sentimental view of a five-hundred year-old Springtime tradition, the hunting of baby seals on the Atlantic ice-floes of eastern Canada.  Sentimentality is often the charge leveled at those who speak on behalf of animals, the implication that emotions rather than facts are ruling ones’ actions. But the fact is, these twelve day old pups are babies, they are utterly defenseless. Veterinarians and scientists who have observed the hunt even estimate that 40% of the seals are actually skinned while still alive.   

This spring tradition began in the sixteenth century, when millions of barrels of harp sea oil were shipped from the coast of Newfoundland to light the lamps of Europe. In the nineteenth century, it became fashionable to use the fur of the seals for coats, scarves, and trinkets, the very same way their fur is used today. Over the centuries, hunting caused a drastic reduction in the harp seal population, and images of the helpless seals clubbed to death led to a 1987 halt of the hunt – only for it to begin again in the 1990’s, when various political and industrial fishing powers declared the harp seal responsible for the depletion of cod populations in the North Atlantic.

Although convenient to blame an animal that fossil records indicate have been eating cod for over 20 million years, the facts prove that cod makes up only 3% of the harp seal diet, while numerous studies show the serious decline in North Atlantic cod is due to one thing:  over-fishing. Not by seals, but by man.

Tradition, like sentimentality, is a word that can halt reasonable discussion for change. “Yes, but it is our tradition” is a phrase often used to justify all types of cruel behavior toward animals, be it cockfighting, bull-fighting, or the bludgeoning of harp seals. The word “Tradition” means a time-honored set of practices, the passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation. There is no morality implied in the word, yet it is often viewed through a lens of black or white – a duality that leads to no solutions, and for the harp seals, is colored only in blood red.

Animal advocate Matthew Scully writes that traditions can “ennoble us or enslave us, leaving human beings a little too comfortable and settled in our ways. Traditions can be changed and replaced with better ways that in time become traditions themselves.”  Scully’s point is important, because global boycotts tied directly to the annual slaughter of the seals cost Canada millions of dollars in lost revenue. Proven alternatives exist to end the slaughter and provide winning formulas for everyone – hunters, fishermen, Canadian people, government, the cod, the global community, and the seals. After five-hundred springs of slaughter, isn’t it time to end the hunt and establish a new tradition on the icy floes of the North Atlantic – one of compassion, humanity, and economic good sense.

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