PETA's shark attack ad sparks controversy
PETA's shark attack ad sparks controversy, Great white sharks, the largest predatory fish in the ocean, are supreme fodder for headlines. Yet in recent weeks, it is the humans who study them that have grabbed the spotlight among a circle of bloggers and advocates for the iconic species.
One scientist and his methodology for studying the sharks have been at the center of the controversy: Michael Domeier, a marine biologist whose quest to study great white sharks and outfit them with satellite tags has been documented over several years and two seasons on the National Geographic Channel's "Shark Men."
Domeier seeks to learn the mysterious migration habits of the sharks, specifically the females. Where they go on their two-year wanderings and where they give birth is a big unknown for researchers — and key information if the species is to be saved, some say. Domeier is the first scientist to attempt to track mature great white sharks with satellite tags that can deliver that information. Peta shark attack ad, peta shark ad outrage, Charles Wickersham shark bite, wickersham mother peta over the top,
Around the world, shark populations suffered precipitous declines in recent years, and although much is unknown about great white sharks' population status, they are considered a vulnerable species.
In order to gather the data he's after, Domeier uses blunted hooks to bring a shark alongside a boat, then lifts the fish out of the water for 15 to 20 minutes. A hose is put in the shark's mouth to allow it to breath, a wet towel is placed over the eyes to calm it, and Domeier gets to work, taking blood samples, checking the sex of the shark, and attaching a satellite tag to the shark's dorsal fin.
Similar protocol is practiced by many groups of shark researchers around the globe, generally on smaller sharks. Yet Domeier's work has provoked strong criticism among some would-be defenders of great white sharks, and in some corners of the blogosphere the conversation has been reduced to accusations, name-calling and ad hominem attacks, first against Domeier and the methods he uses to tag sharks, and now between commenters.
A picture of a shark with a gruesome injury reignited the controversy several weeks ago. Domeier and his crew tagged the male shark, dubbed Junior, in October 2009. When it was caught, the shark was hooked in the back of the throat — which is unusual. The crew managed to cut off part of the hook, but a portion of it was left in the shark.
In October 2010, an unidentified party took a video of the same shark (visually identified by its markings and the presence of a satellite tag on its dorsal fin) with a gaping wound beside its mouth.
A few weeks ago, many months after the video was taken, a horrifying still from the video was sent around to shark blogs, according to David Shiffman, a marine science grad student and shark researcher who writes about sharks for the blog SouthernFriedScience.
The original source of the image, and why it was sent now, is unclear.
Although there is little to no evidence that the shark's wound is in any way related to Domeier's work, accusations have flown.
Domeier says the full video shows that Junior's head is covered with bite marks, most likely from another great white. The species is known to attack its own.
Despite the lack of evidence to support their claim, critics say the shark is the victim of heedless human action.
Federal authorities and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, where Junior was first tagged and the video was taken, are reviewing the case, and say they will issue a report in the coming months, and until then, the video is unavailable to the public.
The scientific community has publicly remained largely silent on the issues of both Junior's injury and Domeier's methods in general. Many scientists are loath to join the fray for professional reasons, and some simply said they couldn't comment.
As to the overarching issue of research practices, some scientists say it's impossible to qualify Domeier's methods in the extreme — as saintly or damnable. There are pros and cons to the hooking and tagging of large great whites, they say, and answers to the question are too nuanced for a two-sided shouting match.
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