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.