Saturday, January 4, 2014

Screw Sharks, Think Of The Dolphins!

So I was going through the junk folder on my oldest email account, just to see if I was missing anything, and I found this petition: "The Cost of Shark Bait Soup: Dolphins Chopped Up And Skinned Alive."  The hysterical summary cries out about the sadful sadness that is the dead dolphins, butchered by those horrible fishermen.  They just don't appreciate these amazing creatures!  Also something about havoc on the ecosystem.  The dolphins, though!  The dolphins!

Seriously.  The first paragraph of the petition's description reads, "Shark fin soup comes with a price. And we're not talking the thousands people pay to eat it — we're talking the mass killing of sharks, the disruption of our oceans' ecosystem, and the brutal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of dolphins used by fishermen as shark bait."  The other two paragraphs, however, focus exclusively on the fate of the dolphins, and the petition itself is asking the Peruvian government to better enforce the ban on dolphin meat.

I didn't sign the petition.  Normally, I'm a sucker for petitions.  I know they don't actually have any real effect, most of the time, and they are an easy way for someone to pretend to be an "activist" without actually doing any real, meaningful activism.  But sadly, I'm guilted into signing them pretty easily.  A corporation has done something mean!  I must take a stand, or else I am supporting them!  An animal is being abused?  I must sign this, or else I will be as bad as the people abusing it in the first place!  Et cetera, et cetera.  But I didn't sign this one.  In fact, I was kind of offended by it.

For one thing, they don't ever mention which kind of dolphin is usually being slaughtered.  It makes me a little suspicious.  After all, while there certainly are endangered breeds out there, the bottlenose dolphin, for example, isn't endangered in the slightest.  Neither the petition nor the article it links even throws in a sentence like, all dolphins are killed, regardless of endangered status!  Also, dolphins are kind of dicks.  I admit, I've got a bit of my own personal bias going on too: dolphins are just so universally adored, but I just don't see how they are any cuter or more endearing than another type of animal, and after a lifetime of hearing about how they're so sweet and friendly and spiritual and they have such a connection to us and "My spirit animal is a dolphin because I just love dolphins" I just got kind of annoyed by them.  I don't actively dislike dolphins or anything, they just don't register as special to me the way they seem to for everyone else.  

Which leads me to what is probably the main reason I didn't sign the petition: it was just obsessed with the freaking dolphins, and it completely ignored the worse industry: shark fishing.  Even though the petition's page starts out by directly mentioning shark fin soup, which kills a huge amount of sharks annually, it's the freaking dolphins that matter.  They're as bad as dolphins, taking an industry that's explicitly about killing sharks in horrible ways and only being concerned with the way it affects the one animal that's popular and cute enough for them to stir up emotions over.  It's killing the dolphins that will ruin the ecosystem, folks! The shark killing is just a little side drama to add to this horrible dolphin tragedy!

You could probably say that sharks are my dolphins: everyone else seems to think they're just awful, but I love them to pieces, and the shark fishing industry just breaks my heart.  The dolphins are getting off easy here.  The article the petition links to even says, "the dolphin is hauled on board and almost immediately dies on the deck of the vessel."  Bleeding profusely, sure, but at least it dies right away.  Compare the poor sharks; a lot of the time, the fishermen don't even kill them before cutting off their fins, and they just toss them back into the water to sink down and die, eaten by predators or drowning without their fins propelling water through their gills.  And I can't think of any non-endangered shark breed subjected to finning off the top of my head.*  Great whites, endangered.  Hammerheads, endangered.  Mako sharks, probably endangered, I can't remember.  Whale sharks and basking sharks, both endangered and greatly sought after.  If the petition really cared about the plight of amazing creatures, it would be objecting to the entire practice of shark finning, not just the way shark finning also includes the death of "cute" animals like dolphins.

*Not to say that there aren't any; I can pretty much guarantee that there are plenty I'm not thinking of.  Just not off the top of my head, like I could with the dolphin thing.

But nope!  Hey Peru, get to work on saving those dolphins!  Those cutie-patooties are the real victims of the shark finning industry!  Assuming this is that magical unicorn petition that actually does have an effect on the real world, what would happen if it worked?  Peru would stop people from hunting dolphins, sure.  But it wouldn't stop anyone from hunting sharks, or from using a different animal as bait.  This petition isn't about animal rights, it's just about dolphins specifically, because people have decided that dolphins alone are worth protecting, but sharks aren't cute enough and "the ecosystem" is too broad and vague to have an emotional impact.  Look at Flipper!  He's always smiling!  Quick, pass a law!

Disclaimer: I'd just like to say, for the record, that I'm not an animal rights activist.  I strongly disapprove of animal abuse, and I love just about any critter that isn't a bug.  I absolutely think there should be laws in place to protect animals, especially endangered ones like the various sharks and dolphins mentioned in this post.  But I also approve of keeping animals as pets, and of using them when it's convenient, I approve of animal testing (look, it's sad that animals get hurt over it but I want to know that my makeup and medicine is safe for living things before it starts getting tested on humans!), and I approve of hunting.  In fact, I think hunting is more humane than animal farming.  At least my moose had the space and freedom to run around and live, and it's not stuffed to the moosey gills with steroids and hormones.  Basically, just because I disagree with how limited this petition is, don't lump me in with those Peta freaks.  

Update: I was on Wikipedia and remembered this article, so I looked up shark finning!  Turns out that of the dozen or so species listed on the page as being commonly fished, only about three of them are non-threatened: blacktips, blues, and tigers.  Well.  They're "near-threatened," so still not great that they are being hunted, but they're still classified as "least concern."  

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