Hundreds of students honour the endangered basking shark | Healthy Oceans | David Suzuki Foundation
Photo: Hundreds of students honour the endangered basking shark

There is little research on basking sharks happening in Canada because there are too few animals to study (Credit: D.Dancer/).

By Rachelle Delaney, Editorial Production Coordinator

On June 8 2011, students and teachers from five schools in and around Victoria B.C. celebrated Oceans Day in a fun and creative way. In an event organized by the Oceans Day Festival Society, thirteen hundred of them gathered to form an aerial image of Canada's most endangered fish.

Also the second largest fish in the world, the basking shark was the perfect choice for an Ocean's Day ambassador. Only 55 years ago, basking shark populations were plentiful—so plentiful that the sharks regularly got tangled in salmon nets, leading people to label them as pests. In response, the department of fisheries declared war on them, using steel blades attached to the bows of patrol vessels to slice the sharks in half.

Today, it's almost impossible to spot a basking shark on the BC coast. Sightings have dwindled to about one per year.

So it was with mixed feelings that Scott Wallace, the Foundation's sustainable fisheries analyst, headed to Victoria to join in the Oceans' Day festivities. The author of Basking Sharks: The Slaughter of BC's Gentle Giants, Wallace knows the sharks' deplorable situation better than anyone. But he was heartened to see so many concerned children learning about this endangered species, then taking to the field in the sunshine to form a gigantic shark with blue jeans, sand, soil, and their own bodies.

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"Fifty years ago," says Wallace, "the grandparents of these children would be figuring out ways of killing the basking shark. And now we're here celebrating them and trying to bring them back. I think that shows how social change can take place very quickly. Within a generation and a half, we've gone from villainizing something to celebrating it."

Though there is little research on basking sharks happening in Canada (simply because there are too few animals to study), there is now a recovery plan in place that incorporates international cooperation and better monitoring and reporting systems.

Despite the odds stacked against the basking shark, Wallace hasn't given up hope. "The basking shark has lived in the world's oceans for thirty million years," he says. "So if it can weather this little storm, I think we'll see them back on our coasts. Maybe not in the next year or two, but over the course of the next few generations."

Oceans Day — 2011 from Daniel Dancer on Vimeo.

August 2, 2011
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/healthy-oceans-blog/2011/08/hundreds-of-students-honour-the-endangered-basking-shark/

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3 Comments

Aug 05, 2011
12:21 PM

I’m embarrassed to say that I was unaware there had been basking sharks in BC waters.I lived around the coast since the 1960s and have seen whales,seals,otters, but no big sharks.

Aug 07, 2011
10:29 AM

Very nice Mr. Suzuki,

It was very nice to see you speak the last time you were in Toronto.

Hopefully your efforts and the efforts of thousands will help preserve the integrity of our environment.

The environment should not be considered an “externality” and needs to be considered by corporations. I guess that’s the new word business is adopting to justify pushing it aside.

Thank you for all your efforts and I hope that closed containment fish farms become a requirement to help preserve the delicate balance of our oceans.

Doug Leclair

Aug 10, 2011
5:16 PM

John and Doug, both your comments highlight the importance of staying connected with nature, and understanding that we, as a species, are deeply embedded and, ultimately, dependent, on nature for our survival and well-being. With our current day-to-day modern lifestyle, which involves spending most of our time in our homes, or working, shopping, eating, or exercising indoors, it is easy for many of us to forget this.

When’s the last time you stepped outdoors to walk trails, ride a bike, go for a run, or enjoy the scenery? Taking the time to reconnect with nature is important, not only for our personal well-being, but also in reminding ourselves why being sustainable and taking steps to become more environmentally friendly is so important in the first place.You might also find this recent blog post done by David interesting for a bit more further reading: http://bit.ly/pYaN4f .

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