After all the press that sharks have received for, you know, disappearing from our seas thanks to overfishing, and all the movement forward conservationist groups have made in protecting these really important apex predators, there are still fishermen out there who take great pleasure out of pulling a shark out of the sea.
One such person is Elliot Sudal, who had a shark on the link for 45 minutes before finally splashing into the waves and pulling the exhausted animal onto the shore. And of course, he had it filmed.The Telegraph writes that the response over the video has been overwhelming: "The video has been picked up by US network news and Mr Sudal has since been inundated with media requests for interviews. Posting on his Facebook page he said: 'I can't keep up with all these calls and voicemails and FB stuff. Let alone leave my house to get to Boston... This got so wild!'"
This is reportedly about his 100th shark caught in the last 8 months.
Sadly, the attention his shark fishing and "wrangling" has garnered has been primarily positive. Another Facebook update says, "Long few days, its been wild. 50+ newspaper interviews, Fox & Friends, Radio tours, CNN, NBC, abc etc... Headed back to Nantucket tonight, thanks for your support, hope to make it out fishing tomorrow."
That doesn't mean shark advocates aren't expressing concern, including marine scientist Amanda Keledjian with the environmental group Oceana, who expressed concern about the video.
Yet Sudal told WFSB, "I always treat [sharks] well. I'm conservation-minded when it comes to that. I don't kill any of them. I just let them go. And yeah, they swim off just fine."
However, one could debate if catching a shark at all qualifies as treating them well. Also, the fate of sharks so exhausted by 45+ minutes of being caught on a line, plus being pulled out of water and onto shore isn't 100% known. They could very well "swim off just fine" and then die. We don't know the amount of possible internal damage or negative effects of such stress on the animal.
According to National Geographic, Bradley M. Wetherbee, who studies shark behavior and ecology at the University of Rhode Island, is conducting a Delaware-based study on what happens to sand tiger sharks when they are caught and released.
Sudal also told National Geographic: "I pull them on shore, I photograph them, and then I let them go, I'm pretty conservation minded, I'm not trying to eat them or hurt them."
But the species he fished out of the water is actually listed by the IUCN as a vulnerable species. Does a "conservation minded" person really put a member of a vulnerable species with a declining population through such an experience?
Sudal told National Geographic, "I am getting backlash, but the Chinese kill a hundred million sharks a year for their fins," he said. "And I let this one go, and I didn't do anything illegal."
No, but as a fisherman, one could try to set an example. Just because a person can catch a vulnerable species, keep it out of the water long enough to photograph oneself next to it, and then release it, doesn't mean one should.
Perhaps the backlash is happening because when we know millions of sharks are indeed being killed every year, the idea of another person gleefully taking yet another out of the sea -- even momentarily -- for sport doesn't go over too well.
If you'd like a better understanding of the plight sharks are in worldwide, including thanks to charter fishermen, check out the book Demon Fish: Travels Through The Hidden World of Sharks.