Every year, humans kill 100 million sharks globally (yes, you read that correctly – 100 million), a relatively conservative estimate found by researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada in 2013. Scientists believe the number of shark species slaughtered annually could be as high as 273 million. This means there is officially a War on Sharks. But while sharks may be demonized in the media, one woman is fighting to change that falsified perception. Ocean Ramsey, a 28-year-old Hawaiian model and marine activist, is proving that sharks aren’t the ferocious man-eating beasts portrayed in JAWS, but 450 million years of evolutionary complexion.
In regards to the shark genocide occurring globally, Ocean stresses to MiLLENNiAL,“If something doesn’t change dramatically right now, it’s going to be too late.” Since the early 1990s, shark finning has infected the world – all for an Asian delicacy called “shark fin soup.” The demand comes from mainland China which views the dish as a “status symbol,” selling to high-class customers for as much as $100 per bowl. It’s not healthy or tasty either. Sharks have a compounded level of mercury as well as toxins that are not beneficial to consume. This tradition, however, is deeply rooted in cultural custom.
The War on Sharks
With a multi-billion dollar international business at stake, Ocean tells us that Chinese finners comb the globe scouring these sharks, with as much as 25 percent of fins coming from Europe. “They buy out the rights to the fisheries of local areas and then decimate them. They take out all the sharks. They hack off their fins, and they throw them back in the water finless, where they slowly bleed to death or suffocate. Sharks can’t grow their fins back. It’s a very cruel and wasteful process.” According to Shark Savers, the fin only represents 3 percent of a shark’s body weight while the other 97 percent of meat is often discarded. And it’s not just China that’s involved in this genocide, but 145 countries that are engaged in the shark fin trade. Indonesia, India, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, Japan, Malaysia, and yes even the United States, are among the active participants destroying our marine eco-system. Sharks only reach sexual maturity between the ages of 15 and 30, taking that long to replace just one shark. This is why it is more important than ever to preserve these animals. We need to help them reach gestation if the life cycle is going to continue.
“I’m all for respecting other cultures, but when it’s not sustainable anymore and it’s actually going to harm future generations, then that’s where we need to draw the line and come up with an alternative.” For a long time, activists have been standing up for marine mammals like dolphins and whales, but as Ocean points out, “it’s harder with sharks.” This is because films like JAWS and programs like Shark Week sensationalize the true nature of these beings and make them feared creatures of the sea. In fact, Ocean tells us “they have a really beautiful blue eye” not the presumed “black eye of death.” Since she was a child, Ocean has been fascinated with sharks. At 16, she encountered her first shark ride experience, and throughout the years has dove with over 32 different species before her biggest feat with Great Whites. When entering the situation, she takes care to approach them with respect. “It’s their home, and when you enter their home, you have respect for it.” Now as a renowned shark activist, Ocean uses the hashtag #ItsTheirOcean to remind people to be conscious and observant of the environment.
Ocean Ramsey & Water Inspired
To protect these extremely vital marine animals, Ocean has started a shark conservation network called Water Inspired to stop the War on Sharks. Part of her activism is to create awareness around the beauty and majesty of these creatures through powerful imagery shot by her friend, partner, and photographer Juan Oliphant. She is the fearless free diver seen in this GoPro video riding on the fin of a Great White shark. “There’s Flipper the Dolphin, and Shamu the whale, well there is also Bella the Great White,” she says. Bella is the largest female to migrate to Guadeloupe Island, and is in her reproductive years. Ocean has a particularly special connection with this Great White. “She commands a lot of respect.” As a more mature Great White, Bella will often push younger sharks out of her territory, making the waters calmer and less nerve-racking for Ocean to interact with her.
But while swimming with sharks is nothing new for Ocean, she does not encourage anyone trying to swim, let alone ride, a shark without extensive knowledge of shark behavior and ocean training. “Every shark is different,” she explains. Some species will bump into each other and have territorial disputes, while others are use to being cleaned by small fish so they may be comfortable being touched. “They are wild animals and they do need to be treated with respect because they are important.” Ocean adds that people often fear what they don’t know.
To counter this common paranoia, her organization Water Inspired offers ecotourism opportunities to dive with sharks under the guidance of trained professionals. “That’s when I really see the perception change,” she says, “it’s an empowering and educational experience.” And fortunately ecotourism is on the rise and helping to absolve environmental devastation.
“The amount of money that is generated from eco-tourism far out weighs the amount that is made by finning,” Ocean notes. She adds that a very poor seaside community in the Philippines was able to bring in $25 million for ecotourism surrounding whale shark expeditions. Before ecotourism, this same seaside community would make a fraction of the profit by selling their whale sharks to the fin trade.
Even if you are afraid of sharks it’s still important to acknowledge their role. Sharks function as the “white blood cells of the sea” and maintain a healthy marine eco-system. If our sharks were to be eliminated, seal lions would multiply beyond a sustainable level, eating the fish consumed by humans. This would result in an ecological disaster that would have a very large ripple effect. It’s a serious issue that needs attention.
Start by speaking up. Inform others about the issue and latch onto those who are working for the cause. As individuals we have a lot of power, but together we are a force. Our earth needs our help. She’s crying out for just a little recognition. The least you could do is listen. To help Ocean Ramsey and Juan Oliphant protect Bella the Great White and fight the War on Sharks, visit Water Inspired and follow Ocean’s mission on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Check out Juan’s Instagram as well for some incredible underwater shots and oceanic fun facts.
You can also sign this petition to raise awareness about shark finning and make it illegal.