Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Spirit of a Shark

Richard Ellis's epic SHARK Exhibition at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which opened last May, has shown again the power of art to move people, and I am deeply pleased and grateful that my own shark story, along with four paintings, was included.

I began to paint sharks when I first encountered shark finning in 1994, when a ship full of shark fins docked in the port of Papeete. As a result of that experience, I went looking for sharks, tried to get to know them as animals and individuals, and began painting them as a way of encouraging others to appreciate and protect them.

What struck me spellbound about them from the first, was the way they would come and look. Those moments when a shark came to gaze straight back from just inches away stretched out for a very long time, and were nothing like the moments of eye-contact shared with other people or mammals. Sharks are different.

The shark's gaze conveys a spirit of considerable power which I tried repeatedly to capture in my paintings.

This rendering of Emma, the beloved elderly lady tiger shark of Tiger Beach in the Bahamas is an example. I was taken to see her by Jim Abernethy, who is a kindred spirit in shark appreciation and protection. The powerful bond between Jim and Emma was clear to see as she swam up to him repeatedly to be stroked, and opened her mouth so he could check her latest hook wound—he had removed more than three hooks from her mouth during their ten year friendship. Her trusting and familiar behaviour with him was unexpected in a fourteen foot tiger shark, and illustrated the strength of the human-to-shark bond that the two shared.

It was the first such bond I had seen subsequent to the companionships I developed with the Tahitian sharks during my quest to know them, which I shared in my book, “My Sunset Rendezvous : Crisis in Tahiti,” after nearly the entire community was finned.

GHOST . . .

One enigmatic shark I knew cruised endlessly, sensed rather than seen as he passed time after time through the vicinity. How often did I believe that he had gone, only to find him close behind me twenty minutes later, a ghost floating almost still in the cloudy light. 

I painted this in memory of those moments one reflective afternoon, years after he was finned. It is entitled "GHOST."  

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Shark Week -- Demonizing Sharks for Profits

Since 1987, Discovery Channel, owned by Discovery Communications, has presented 'Shark Week' each summer. The week long series of shows promotes these endangered marine animals as man eating monsters, facilitating their mass slaughter with almost no public sympathy, nor protest.
The company has so effectively convinced their millions of viewers that sharks deserve to be hated, that many people think that sharks should be hunted to extinction. It has created a wave of fear of the sea, in people who grew up watching Shark Week.
Discovery executives know exactly what they are doing, and call it 'shark pornography,' while they rake in billions of dollars. They excuse themselves by claiming they are only giving the public what it wants, but the public's love of horror shows has nothing to do with Discovery's responsibility for having made sharks the subject of that horror.
Through their dishonest use of sharks for profit in horror shows, Discovery is responsible for erecting a virtually impenetrable barrier to the protection of sharks from being massacred to extinction.
Until recently, even the dangers to sharks from overfishing was covered up by Discovery, because they considered conservation to be an unpopular subject.
Scientists who's work has been used for Discovery's Shark Week have found it twisted and misrepresented by the company. Shark Week is nothing more than tabloid journalism, and does not reflect modern scientific knowledge.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

A Film by Shanon Sparks

While speaking on shark cognition during a tour in Florida, I was called the Jane Goodall of sharks because of the close bonds I formed with the local sharks in Tahiti. Accepted into their community, I documented their intimate behavior over many years before they were finned by a company from Singapore, for the shark fin soup market.

So when Shanon Sparks, who interviewed me for her film about shark intelligence, made a video clip about my book, she entitled it "The Jane Goodall of Sharks"

Monday, 12 March 2012

Oceana Fights for its Credibility

The giant NGO, Oceana, recently sent out a petition to thousands of its trusting members, charging Mr. Jack Ma, CEO of, with "profiting from the deaths of threatened manta rays". This astonishing move immediately caught the attention of those of us who know him to be one of China's most enlightened businessmen, who refuses to support the traffic in shark fins and threatened wild animals, and who serves on the global Board of Directors of The Nature Conservancy.

The entire affair has already been brilliantly documented by Wolfgang Leander, here :
The man that Oceana has vilified is actually a highly illumined Chinese leader, and a clairvoyant businessman. 

From Wikipedia : 

"On November 6, 2007, at a press conference at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Hong Kong, called to discuss the highly successful Hong Kong Stock Exchange IPO, when asked whether was an ethical trading company, Ma responded by announcing to the assembled journalists - and reiterating when queried - that he and his family have "sworn off Shark Fin Soup now and forever" (echoing elite basketballer Yao Ming's famous declaration, which angered Guangzhou's fin traders), which he said was a result of finding out what the problems are. In January 2009, Alibaba Group revised its listing policy and banned the sale of shark fin products on all of its e-commerce platforms."

Mr. Jack Ma has not only been widely acknowledged for his leadership and influence in China, but also in the west, where he is considered one of the "25 Most Powerful Business People in Asia" by Fortune, one of "China's Most Powerful People" by Businessweek, and one of the 30 "World's Best CEOs" by Barron's. Time magazine honoured him with inclusion into the "Time 100 list" of the world's 100 most influential people.

Yet this is the man Oceana chose to vilify, by deliberately connecting his name with the criminal racketeering in manta ray parts. 

Jack Ma, and people like him who always make the moral choice, should be acknowledged and thanked, particularly in such a sensitive context as the Asian market for shark fins. He and his company, Alibaba, have become a beacon of hope to us who have had faith all along that if the Chinese people only learned the truth about shark finning, they would change the recipe for their special soup.

I, among many other shark advocates who were shocked by Oceana's ignorance and coarse behaviour, am waiting to see a humble public apology go out from Oceana to Mr. Jack Ma, in the wake of their unseemly petition.