Photo: 1000 children will make a Basking Shark

On World Oceans Day 2010, hundreds of kids created a marbled murrelet. In 2011, they're making a Pacific basking shark (Credit: Oceans Day Festival Society).

By Scott Wallace, Sustainable Fisheries Analyst and author of Basking Sharks: The Slaughter of BC’s Gentle Giants (New Star Books, 2006)

Send a letter to Canada's Environment Minister Peter Kent, urging him to take action on World Oceans Day.

This Wednesday June 8th I'm going to be celebrating World Oceans Day in a spectacular way. I will be in to Victoria, British Columbia standing amongst one thousand students gathering to form an aerial image of the world's second largest fish, the basking shark. Sadly, the Pacific basking shark is Canada's most endangered fish, even though just half a century ago they were so plentiful that they would regularly become ensnarled in salmon gillnets. In 1955, to alleviate the 'pest' problem, our fisheries department declared war on these sharks. Their weapon of choice was a large steel blade attached to the bow of a fisheries patrol vessel that rammed and sliced the basking sharks in half. So effective was this weapon that a mere fifty-five years later, basking sharks are so rare they have become a mythical creature to most Canadians.

The image the students form will be visible to the heavens, but for only a few minutes. This aerial image is a poignant metaphor. The plankton-eating basking shark evolved into a perfectly adapted species over the course of millions of years, only to face extinction resulting from two decades of wanton destruction—mere seconds in evolutionary time. Similarly, forming the image required immense amount of planning and organization, yet everyone involved will come together for a brief moment and then the image will be gone.

My hope is that this event organized by the Oceans Day Festival Society will mark a turning point in the recovery of basking sharks to our coast. On Canada's Pacific coast about one basking shark a year is confirmed and similarly in the US and Mexico they are also still occasionally observed. Last year the Pacific basking shark was listed under Canada's Species at Risk Act, which led to a proposed recovery strategy. This strategy calls for cooperation with other nations (Mexico and US), better monitoring and reporting, science, and public education. Increased awareness about the plight of this huge shark has brought increased recovery activities in US waters. While it is unlikely that any of us will see a major recovery of the Pacific basking shark in our lifetime, this animal has been around in more or less its present form for over 30 million years — let's hope it's survival instinct gets it through this dark time.

This past May long weekend, I went camping next to Pachena Bay, the site of the largest reported massacre of basking sharks. In the same place, on April 22 1956, a Vancouver Sun reporter on the boat responsible for the killing described Pachena Bay as "Literally crawling with sharks. There were dorsal fins everywhere we looked". With the same eagerness that this previous generation wanted to kill this giant, I looked into the Bay hoping, along with my children, to see my first basking shark in British Columbia. Not this trip, but my family will come back to Pachena Bay, and my hope is that the basking shark will too.

While our attitudes have changed a lot in fifty-five years, our actions still lag behind our values. A thousand children gathering to pay respect for an endangered marine species is a positive sign for the future of the world's oceans. I hope you — and the basking shark — have a Happy Oceans Day.

June 6, 2011

Read more

Post a comment


Jun 06, 2011
7:27 PM

I’m taking my wonderful students and want to thank you, Mr. Wallace, for lending your name and presence to this important event. Let’s hope, as you say, that this generation views the basking shark as a friend and as an important part of our web of life. (Thanks to the DSF for spreading the word.)

Julie Johnston

Jun 08, 2011
10:21 AM

Happy World Oceans Day! Bring healthy oceans into your classroom with this Educator’s Guide and share with teachers and parents you know.

Oct 29, 2011
8:36 PM

My father worked for BC was a dream of his. Then he was put on a boat that went about with this huge slicer to kill basking sharks..I am 60 years old ..he told me this story many years ago..I can't even remember..he had to leave his dream job because he was so disheartend and couldn't believe what the fisheries were doing.

The David Suzuki Foundation does not necessarily endorse the comments or views posted within this forum. All contributors acknowledge DSF's right to remove product/service endorsements and refuse publication of comments deemed to be offensive or that contravene our operating principles as a charitable organization. Please note that all comments are pre-moderated. Privacy Policy »