Thursday, December 3, 2015

Racing Against the Extinction of Whales, Sharks, and Manta Rays

This blog is a reaction to certain parts of the movie "Racing Extinction" that just aired literally minutes ago on Animal Planet. Before I take a focus on the parts of the film that pertains to the messages this blog sends out, I want to take a minute to give a huge hats off to the entire team responsible for making that film. It was extremely well done and the images and footage should honestly be seen worldwide. The information in the film is really extremely important and if you missed it, find it however you can and take a good long look at it and think while watching it because it is a very moving and eye opening film. For a more in depth review of the film as a whole visit as that blog will soon have a blog about the whole film.

Racing Extinction focused a great deal on marine life which is where this blog comes in. Whales, sharks, and manta rays all played a part in the film and bringing these animals once again into the light helps to drive home the fact that these animals are in trouble and need our help. I'm going to touch on each of these things. So with that being said, let's get into this.


About three minutes before the film aired I posted a blog about Japan returning to the Southern Ocean to slaughter whales. One of the first things focused on in this film is the fact that whales continue to be hunted down. There was a focus on the blue whale. This species, so close to being lost forever is thankfully no longer a real target to whaling fleets. One of the statistics used in the film is that the blue whale was hunted to within 2% of their population. That is 98% of a population wiped off the face of the Earth. Now the few remaining roam the seas, singing a song so loud yet inaudible to human ears due to it's low pitch. At this point the blue whale's largest issue is shipping traffic where these animals are killed by shipping vessels literally running them over.

Elsewhere countries continue to hunt whales for commercial purposes. There have been closed door meetings between the US and Japan about the possibility of restoring commercial whaling. In the United States there was a restaurant named The Hump that was closed down after it was discovered they were serving humpback whale. The bottom line is in the year 2015 there is zero reason for us to be killing any whales. There has been a massive drop in the demand for whale meat in Japan and other countries and that demand continues to drop as people become more and more aware of just how these animals are caught and how the wind up on a dinner plate. For those of you who don't know try to picture this.....

You are a whale swimming happily through the Ocean. Then all of a sudden you feel a harpoon strike you in the back. Not only do you feel the harpoon pierce your body, but you feel the tip of the harpoon explode inside you. Now you are too large to be killed by this. Now dragged to the surface you're thrashing trying to save your own life as the blood pours from you. Next you are shot by a shot gun over and over and over again until the whole ordeal is finished and you are dead after an agonizing minimum of 2 minutes after you first got hit with the harpoon. That is how these animals are killed. Don't believe it? Watch it right here....


For those of you who have been reading my blogs for any period of time you will know that sharks have been for a long time my number 1 concern in regards to protecting animals. I love sharks. Every last species fascinates and inspires me. Seeing sharks in Racing Extinction brought a sad tear to my eye, a reminder as to why I do this blog, and happy that once again the horrific things that we do with sharks has been brought into the light.

According to the film, 250,000 sharks are being killed every day. That is two hundred and fifty thousand KILLED every day. In 2013 a study was performed and concluded that roughly 100,000,000 sharks are being killed every year. As the film said. The sharks are largely killed for their fins. The fins are dried and used in a soup named Shark Fin Soup. The fin itself is tasteless, but adds a jelly-like texture to the chicken or beef flavored soup. Shark fin soup is considered a real treat in China, but the popularity of it has taken a downward turn by about 70% so far largely thanks to NBA star Yao Ming (More on that in a bit). The fins themselves are massively profitable while the rest of the shark's body is not. Some shark fins can sell for $50,000 USD. It's incredible, horrible, and disgusting all at the same time. Shark populations world wide have suffered greatly as a result of finning and overfishing. That suffering has already had alarming effects on the oceans and other bodies of water such as bays and rivers as well where populations of secondary predators has exploded from a lack of sharks.

So what is shark finning and why does the shark die. It's actually quite simple to understand how the animal dies once the finning occurs. The process of shark finning is literally as follows. Once a shark is caught it's fins are cut off it's body. Most of the time the still living animal is tossed back into the water. Unlike many other species of fish, sharks (minus certain bottom dwelling sharks) must keep swimming in order to breathe as they lack muscles in their gills to open and close them. Also unlike most fish if a shark stops swimming ( minus the sand tiger shark who can hover motionlessly) it will sink to the bottom. At that point the shark will most likely be eaten by another animal or suffocate. Some sharks will bleed to death depending on where the fins were cut and others will starve to death. No matter how you look at it, it is a terrible death. The sand tiger shark is the only shark known to survive the finning process for any notable period of time.

With roughly 100,000,00 sharks being killed every year, it is no wonder that more and more species are being driven towards extinction. If sharks were to vanish the world as we all know it would if fact change is massive ways. This past summer gave the illusion that sharks are becoming more abundant as a fair amount were seen feeding close to shores. If only that were 100% true. The reality of that situation was that the fish the sharks normally eat offshore are becoming harder and harder for the sharks to find so they naturally have began to look elsewhere for the fish they need. That would be closer to shore and NO they are not developing a taste for humans.

Fortunately for sharks protection is continuing to slowly increase and the demand for shark fin soup is slowly decreasing as more and more people become aware of the scale of this global slaughter and the health risks that can be associated with eating the soup. As I mentioned earlier the demand for the soup in China is down roughly 70%. Despite this, images like this are not uncommon in China.

In one day literally thousands upon thousands upon thousands of shark fins were photographed drying on a rooftop. This is but a tiny, microscopic sample of the magnitude of this slaughter. Yao Ming's PSA ad about shark fin soup has caused a great deal of waking up in China and around the world, but still there is loads to be done and Racing Extinction highlighted that fact in a great way. I'm going to post a couple videos here. The first will be Yao Ming's PSA. The second will be shark finning.

Manta Rays

Manta rays have been a part of this blog for quite some time now and they were prominently featured in Racing Extinction. In the past I have blogged about the plight that manta rays are currently facing and I will be doing so briefly here again. Before doing so though I want to give a massive shout out again to the Racing Extinction team. They for what I would really consider for the first time brought manta rays into the light. I can't think of anyone I have ever spoken to that spoke ill of these animals. I've never heard of anyone having any fear of them, anger towards them, a desire to kill them, nothing. Manta rays are a very special type of animal that seem to just grip people's imagination. As crazy as it may sound, the manta ray just seems to make people happy when they think about it. Videos can be found of these majestic animals performing spectacular acrobatics under water, smaller species literally flying through the air, and a real curiosity and almost friendliness towards humans. What most people don't realize though is that these animals are quickly being driven towards extinction and that is actual the point that Racing Extinction drove home.

In 2013 manta rays were placed on CITES Appendix II which put regulations on their trade. Despite this though there is still a massive market for mantas and no. It is not for the meat of the ray. Instead manta rays are largely hunted for their gill rakers which are believed to help cure diseases and lead to a better sex life. They are also falsely considered to be a part of traditional Chinese medicine. I say that because if you look in an actual traditional Chinese medicine book, you will not find manta ray gill rakers. The gill rakers themselves sell for a high price while the meat is basically worthless.

Manta rays are hunted for the gill rakers in various parts of the world and the way that these animals are caught and killed is nothing short of barbaric. For some areas of the world, it is really the most efficient way they can kill these animals as they simply don't have advanced technology and are using little wooden boats. In Racing Extinction the team visited Lamakera, a fishing village in Indonesia whose main source of income was selling manta ray gill rakers to China. They crew wound up going out on one of the fishing boats and witnessed first hand how these animals are killed. I haven't been able to find a clip of this from the movie yet, so I'll do my best to describe it. When a manta is located a man jumps off the boat with a long spear in hand that is attached by a rope to the boat and stabs the manta. Next the manta is pulled close to the boat while it fights as hard as it can to get away. Once alongside the boat the manta is stabbed to death. Yet again, a horrible way to go and one that is happening around the world.

When the team was asked by the village elders about an alternative to hunting the mantas, the crew brought up their insane tourism value. It is estimated that a single live manta is worth 1,000,000 dollars USD. Lamakera is responsible for more gill rakers being sold than anywhere else in the world and the people of the village are aware and concerned. They know and have admitted that it has become harder to find mantas. Trips that usually stayed close to shore are becoming longer and longer and further out. As grim as it sounds, the positive is this. Lamakera is slowly transitioning itself. In 2014 Indonesia created the world's largest manta ray sanctuary which includes Lamakera. The town is currently in transition and while fisherman will still hunt mantas out of tradition (an actual tradition that has been in place in Lamakera long before the gill raker trade began) the number of them being killed for their gill rakers is in decline. At this point it seems that the village elders have been open to saving the populations of manta rays around Lamakera and some of the results of that can be seen in one of the videos at the end of this section.

While Indonesia has set itself up to be on the forefront of saving manta rays, much work still needs to be done. Manta rays are still being slaughtered at an alarming rate and what's even more alarming is having the knowledge that some female manta rays may give birth to just 1 pup throughout the course of  their lives. What that means is that the reproductive rate of a manta ray can never and will never be able to keep up with fishing pressures. Racing Extinction brought these animals into the light like never before and now is the time to save them. If the people of Lamakera are willing to change their ways and move towards sustainable fisheries and try to help the very same animals they've driven towards extinction, then that is an example for the rest of the world to follow. Images like these...

Can and should be erased from being repeated. The gill raker trade is one really built up on hype and lies. How it ever came to be the monster it is today, I'll never understand but it is what it is an it's up to us to try and put an end to it. Afterall. These animals are true gentle giants of the sea and that can be witnessed beyond any doubt in the first of the two videos I'm going to put up. Keep in mind what you are watching is not a freak thing as the same thing has been reported time and time again with these animals!

To all who are reading. We are truly in a race against extinction for so many animals on our planet. It extends far beyond the sea and it literally covers the whole planet. Birds, fish, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles are all facing the end. The bittersweet thing is that we have the ability to try to reverse all of it. It's sweet knowing that we could do it. It's bitter knowing how monumental a task it is going to be for many of these species whom are virtually all but lost and nobody is really batting an eye. Racing Extinction brought so many issues back into the light that it may seem a bit overwhelming. Personally I don't know how many fights an individual can take on and fight for. Here I fight primarily for whales, dolphins, sharks, and manta rays. That doesn't by any stretch mean that I don't care for the other animals of the world. It just means that these four massive fights are really what I can handle. If everyone were to find an animal species they really cared about and just spoke out in an effort to save them... You never know what could be started.

The race to save all of these animals from extinction continues to by on and more and more people are becoming aware and realizing what is happening and there is nothing wrong with that. I can say that from watch Racing Extinction that a fire has been re-ignited for these animals. The film served as a serious reminder to me about just what I've been fighting for and the feeling of being a part of that fight to save the gentle giants, apex predators, and some of the most fascinating animals in the world is something special. Change can happen and is happening for these animals, but it can only continue to change if we keep fighting and that is something that I will continue to do and hope that you will continue to or start to do for these animals as well because once they are gone. They will never be heard from again. As always thank you for reading and please do yourself a favor and watch Racing Extinction!

While Racing Extinction is the newest film on the block in regards to these issues and so many more, there are two more I highly recommend. The first is entitled "Sharkwater" which focuses on shark finning and the second is "The Cove" which focuses on the Taiji dolphin slaughter. Check them out!!!!

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