Man Bites Shark

The National Geographic Society’s historical mission has been to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world’s cultural, historical, and natural resources”. More recently their President, John M. Fahey Jr put it more succinctly when he said the Society’s purpose was “to inspire people to care about their planet”.

But are the demands of commercial television at odds with these stated aims?

Chris Fischer shows off his scientific equipment.

Promotion for National Geographic Television’s Expedition Week has been heavily focussed around Expedition Great White…

A hundred sixty miles off the coast of Baja California, a team of world-class anglers will land one of the most challenging fish imaginable: the great white shark. Unlike any other catch ever attempted, they’ll lift an SUV-sized shark onto a platform, mount a long-lasting tracking tag by hand, take measurements and DNA samples, and release it unharmed… all within minutes. Marine biologist Dr. Michael Domeier uses advanced tracking devices to help uncover how this predator lives, with the ultimate goal of conserving and protecting this endangered species

The programmers at National Geographic know well enough that sharks, particularly “SUV-sized” ones are ratings gold but is getting a “team of world-class anglers”, in this case TV fishing personality Chris Fischer and Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker, to catch them scientifically necessary or in the best interests of the shark? A lot of experts think the expedition is potentially doing the animals, which included one enormous 4,200 pound female, more harm to  than good.

If this fish actually was an SUV you could fit 87 students inside for a new world record

Dr. Pete Klimley, a professor of marine sciences at UC Davis, warned California Department of Fish and Game and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration not to grant permission to the expedition, saying…

You’re taking an animal that’s two tons and which needs the water to support its weight, and suddenly removing it from its environment. Their internal organs could rupture, causing death days later, unborn pups inside a pregnant female could be squashed or forced out of their body

Even shark dive operations in the area have weighed in on the matter with Mick Menigoz, skipper of the cage diving boat Superfish saying…

We pushed for the new regulations, and we’ve bent over backwards for years to not hurt or bother the sharks. We’re not even allowed to approach them, and now they’re letting these guys come in and use baited hooks to catch them. I’d be surprised if they don’t kill one

And those fears came close to reality when the first shark caught by the team was hooked deep in the back of its mouth. After a 40 minute tussle the exhausted animal was hauled on board but it took 8 minutes to remove a fishing buoy from the shark’s mouth before a hose pumping sea water over its gills was able to be inserted. A pair of bolt cutters then had to be stuck through the gills to reach the hook where it was cut, leaving the business end still lodged in the fish’s throat.

Dr Michael Domeier, the marine biologist with the expedition likened the stress placed on the sharks to that placed on a bass when a fisherman catches and releases it. Above all he sees the research and the television programme as a vital part of plans to save the Great White, which is listed as an endangered species.

…this is a show about real science, not science created for TV, which is so often the case

Others, such as Sean Van Sommeran, an independent Santa Cruz researcher with the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation, don’t have such a rosy view either of the methodology or the science…

If you were to hook a protected species of two-ton marine mammal and drag it onboard a boat, people would go through the roof. Speaking facetiously, I might call his study ‘Flight Behavior of White Shark with a Barbed Hook in Its Gut

It remains to be seen what sort of data Domeier will gather from the tags, which are placed on the dorsal fin by drilling holes through the fin and then bolting them on. One thing that probably can be counted on is the National Geographic, who have always seen sharks and nazis as catnip to viewers, have probably got a ratings winner on their hands. And in those circumstances the research will, no doubt, be heralded by the Society as “groundbreaking”.

I’ll leave you with a picture of the “scientific expedition” hard at work.


Yee Hah! We're doing science... high five!!

Further reading at Notes: Aussie Shark Attack HORROR™

One Response

  1. […] Further reading at Notes: Man Bites Shark […]

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