The American Shark Tournament: 30 Years of Jaws

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Consumers, scuba divers and photographers join the efforts of the Humane Society of The United States to expose the truth behind shark tournaments. 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.

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

Consumers, scuba divers and photographers join the efforts of the Humane Society of The United States to expose the truth behind shark tournaments.

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.

On June 14th the Montauk Shark Tournament wrapped up at the Star Island Yacht Club in Long Island, New York. This is arguably the largest shark tournament in the US, rivaled possibly only by the Oak Bluffs tournament held in Martha's Vineyard. In an era of environmental consciousness, the American shark tournament is an institution that represents an old, violent and unsustainable way of thinking.

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.

However, Jason Heller, a professional underwater photographer from New York says "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. 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 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 Mundas 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.

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. 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.

About DivePhotoGuide.com
DivePhotoGuide is an online portal for a growing global community of underwater photographers and videographers. This affluent group is actively involved in creating awareness for marine conservation issues and in many instances have become the eyes and ears of the ocean. Scuba divers often bear witness to vital changes in the marine ecosystems prior to anyone else. Shark conservation is an essential area where scientists and researchers are recruiting divers worldwide to report on the health of our oceans.

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JASON HELLER
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