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Richard Peirce

ISSUE 14 ARCHIVE - SHARKIPEDIA

Richard Peirce

In my view one of the best marine conservation films yet made is “End of the Line”. The film is hard hitting, factual, no-one is on an ego trip, and its message really comes across. In a different way, “The Cove” ticked many of my ‘good film’ boxes, and “Sharkwater” was also a powerful awareness promoting vehicle.

In our new documentary “The Fin Trail”, we will be trying to combine the best elements of the approaches taken in the films I have mentioned into a new campaigning film which will really make a difference. As the name implies, the film will be about the supply of shark fins, and the consumer market that causes the supply. We all know that the world’s sharks are being killed at unsustainable rates to satisfy largely far Eastern (mainly Chinese) demand, and “The Fin Trail” will look at the whole issue of supply and demand, from the time of the fins removal from the shark to its turning up in the soup. We will start filming the first trail off Cornwall this summer and fund raising is going well but we’re not there yet, so if you know any moneyed people with an environmental conscience...

In early June I made the visit to China I referred to in my last column.
I thought I was heading for the ‘Kingdom of the damned’, and having a real feeling of entering enemy territory. My lifelong passion has been wildlife in general and sharks in particular, and my perception was that most of the ills faced by wildlife on planet Earth have their origins in China. The visit did not change my perception but I came away convinced that there is a good chance that the Chinese themselves will do something about solving the problems – if by then it’s not too late to solve them and there is still wildlife to conserve!

The primary reason for my visit was to present Shark Trust ‘Shark Champion’ awards to three Chinese men who have put forward proposals that a law be passed banning the import of shark fins into mainland China. I approached this proposition with the same scepticism that you are probably feeling as you read about it. The secondary reason for the visit was to do research for “The Fin Trail” and start shooting initial footage.

The Shark Champions are utterly committed to finishing what they have started, and are genuinely convinced that the law they have proposed will come into being. They, and others, made me realise that the China of today and tomorrow are different places to the China of yesterday. Young Chinese people are largely not interested in shark fin soup, and don’t believe in killing wildlife for the sake of questionable remedies and ancient traditions. I came to believe that things are changing and will change faster, but as I have said, the sixty four thousand dollar question for sharks and other wildlife is will things change fast enough?

Jim Zhang, one of the Shark Champions, told me that mainland China consumes 95% of the world’s production of shark fins. If the proposed law comes into being fast enough, it will save the world’s sharks at a stroke. History has shown time and again that if there is a demand then there will always be a supply, and laws in the West have often been ineffective – drugs, prohibition alcohol, human trafficking, illegal animal parts, – but stop 95% of the demand and that is the best way to also stop the supply. We must all continue our efforts and not rely on some possible Chinese solution in the future. However at the same time we must congratulate them on their initiative and encourage them to see it through.

In September I will lead a Shark Conservation Society shark search expedition for two and a half weeks in the Outer Hebrides!... Hmm first he thinks the Chinese will stop eating shark fin soup, and now he’s looking for sharks in Scotland – get the straight jacket and find him a nice quiet padded cell I hear you say. Well, perhaps a Scottish shark search is not so daft. I have investigated over 80 claimed sightings of great whites in UK waters, and following investigation eight of them remain credible, and four of the eight are in north-west Scottish waters. There’s even a film clip shot on a mobile phone in the Sound of Harris which acknowledged experts agree could be a great white. There are records of makos, threshers, blues, greenlands and porbeagles, and there’s never been a full on extensive and intensive chumming exercise in these waters so it will be interesting to see what turns up. The greatest threat to the expedition will be the weather. We could easily spend two weeks indoors listening to gales and watching rain pour down the windows. Sharks or not I’ll let you know how we get on in my next column.

In June, a St. Ives based angling skipper saw a shark which he thought might have been an oceanic whitetip. News of the sighting got to the tabloids so the first press shark feeding frenzy came early this year. My own guess is that he saw a porbeagle, but when I interviewed him he was adamant about his identification, and seemed like a sensible, realistic guy. Oceanic whitetips are usually found in waters ranging from 18-28 degrees centigrade, and off Cornwall at the time our temperatures were 13-13.5 degrees, for this and other reasons I think his identification was probably wrong.

I believe we probably do get the occasional vagrant great white shark in British waters, and given the hysteria with which the media treat possible but unlikely sightings, God knows how they will react when one day a great white is confirmed. Lock up your daughters, guard the Queen, call out the SAS (SBS), close all UK beaches, re-call the army from Afghanistan, and speculate whether this latest crisis will mean the end of British seaside holidays! Crazy, but then the word ‘shark’ seems to do that to people.

In June 1981 off the Isle of Wight, shark anglers Danny Vokins and Ross Staplehurst were jointed in their boat by a 181 kg (398 lb) thresher shark! They had been angling for threshers and suddenly a particularly energetic and athletic specimen leapt right out of the water and landed aboard Ross’ boat. A 28 stone shark landing amid anglers on a small 25 ft boat could easily have seriously injured or killed someone. Miraculously no-one was hurt, but sadly the shark lost its life as it
was too big to lift back into the water and it’s tail was endangering
the anglers, so with huge sadness and regret Ross and Danny killed the shark.

In July this year in South Africa, history repeated itself when a 3 metre great white shark breached next to a research boat and landed among the research party. Once again the animal was too large to be lifted back into the water, and matters were complicated as the panicking shark had got itself wedged between the engines. They returned to shore with the shark aboard, used lifting gear to remove the shark and managed eventually to safely return the shark to the ocean. So, whether you are in South Africa or the UK if you are chumming for sharks watch out for high flyers!

By October I’ll probably be out of the UK filming “The Fin Trail”, if not, see you at the Dive Show.

Richard Peirce films and books can be bought online through: SCS Shark Shop

The Fin Trail

Richard Peirce's website

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