This time, it was a pregnant female that was caught and killed in the shark nets installed near Scottburgh beach today. A shark whose population is so threatened, it is raised in test tubes in Australia in a desperate attempt to save it from extinction. A shark that is rarely linked to incidents with humans (and more than half of those are provoked) whose main source of food is small fish and crustaceans. A shark who had made it through two sets of nets to the beach, and was then caught in the cloudy water returning to the sea. A shark that was brutally strangled and suffocated to death. A shark that never should have died.
And what’s worse, she was a pregnant female whose death marks the demise of dozens of unborn Raggedtooth Sharks. Running the gauntlet of hundreds of meters of nets installed up the coastline of South Africa, she had most likely made it the long journey up to Sodwana and back instinct guiding her to her birthing place before becoming entangled, not seeing the camaflouged black net in the murky water. Surprised, she must have fought to free herself, only worsening the nets’ hold as it tightened around her gills slowly choking the last breaths of air out of her. A beautifully elegant animal, she spent her last painful moments desperately alone probably never imagining a fate such as this, the remora affixed to her belly giving her no solace.
I found her a few hours later. Diving down, I knew there was a shark on the net – a dead shark. But no amount of dead sharks can prepare you emotionally for the sight. There she was, her head and gills engulfed in tightly meshed net, her timid eyes glazed over forced to accept her fate, her harmless mouth agape frozen in time as she struggled for her last breath of air. This magnificent shark, the kind that is so shy it won’t even allow a diver to come too close, murdered by ignorance and greed. My heart sank when I realized she was with carrying a precious cargo – as many mature females are at this time of year – a new generation of sharks slaughtered before entering the world. I stroked her graceful snout and wished her death was not in vain. That the world would wake up and stop the insanity. That the archaic nets would finally be removed – having caused the deaths of thousands of harmless sharks, dolphins, turtles, rays, and whales while serving a primarily psychological purpose. But while causing very real destruction to a very fragile place.
Then, I could only watch as men dragged her to the surface, joking and laughing as they tried to pull her into the boat, a very large shark, having spent years avoiding the nets of death, As if her death wasn’t brutal and senseless enough, they proceeded to dismember and destroy her in front of my eyes. She was just another fish to them. They gaffed her so hard the gaff broke in two, affixed thick ropes that sawed thru her gills, the water turning red with blood, and then, poked out her eyes only to stick their index fingers into her eye sockets. Her majestic beauty transformed into gore. The air filled with the pungent smell every shark conservationist dreads. The smell of fresh, dead shark.
More than 6,000 of her kind have been caught and killed in the last three decades joining the over 26,000 other harmless sharks that have been slaughtered. And many more will continue to die every year. Senselessly. Brutally. Needlessly.
Generations of animals – many threatened with extinction - who play a critical role in this planet’s health killed because of a media-induced, irrational fear.
When will this madness stop?
(All photos and images courtesy of Paul Wildman. Copyright, Paul Wildman, 2008.)