Thursday, 26 January 2012

Spain starts taking baby steps in the right direction

Yep, that's a huge Great White Shark and yep, it's in Spain. This specimen was washed ashore at Tossa de Mar in 1992 and as you can probably imagine, caused quite a stir, enough of a stir for the local authorities to try and squash the story before it got out, terrified at the impact it would have on tourism. Nobody really knows what exactly happened to the shark or how it sustained the injuries which led to it washing up on the beach, although still alive, clearly in severe bad health. Don't just take my word for it, watch this


What does this have to do with the subject of this blog? Not much, but anyone who knows me or who reads this blog knows I love Spain dearly and I have a particular interest in Mediterranean sharks. The fact that there are sharks at all, let alone specimens like the shark in the video, in the Med is still barely known amongst the wider public but there they are and they are in desperate need of help.

Make no mistake about it, everything you read about the desperate state of our oceans and no matter how bad it is in the ocean nearest you, it's worse in the Med. It has been absolutely ravaged, obliterated of life in a relatively short period of time, including its elasmobranchs, with estimates ranging from 90-99% of its resident sharks now gone.

The Mediterranean is the cradle of civilisation, the body of water where ocean trading and industry began and the place from which the first ever written document of an interaction between man and shark took place, when I say interaction, I of course mean that a hapless sailor was eaten by what was probably a Great White Shark, whilst taking a dip from his ship in waters off Greece.

That the Mediterranean is in the dire state it is, is tragic, and it pains me to say that historically, Spain has contributed to the Med's demise possibly more than any other nation. However, could there be hope?

Your best chance of seeing a shark in Spain remains either in an aquarium or the markets. On that list are six species of shark, six species which if you moved to Spain or the Balearic Islands you almost certainly would still never see, even if you visit the fish markets when the boats come in, something I actually enjoy doing and find fascinating. I have seen a picture of an Angular Rough Shark in a Spanish market, the last confirmed sighting of a Smalltooth Sandtiger I can recall from Mediterranean waters was around 1998 off the southern coast of France, I haven't a clue when the last reliable report of a live Mediterranean Sand Tiger was and it's common knowledge that all Angel Shark species have taken an absolute hammering in Europe.

Spain, unlike the UK, traditionally speaking anyway, has not been seen as a nation of animal lovers, that isn't to say people in Spain hate animals, that would of course be ridiculous, but the relationship between animals and people in Spain was once more one of tolerance or complete indifference than affection. However, in keeping with the changes in attitude towards conservation and repsect for animals around the world, Spain and its people have made huge strides forward and this change in attitude in Spain is reflected in this decision and young Spaniards now have the same affections for animals and conservation as we in the UK do. Bear in mind the British and to a slightly lesser extent, American, relationship with animals is unusual in that, whereas other nations keep and love animals, we actually make them parts of the family blurring the line between man and beast and that is part of our culture, many other nations look at us because they think what we do is weird. Just because we do it, doesn't mean it's autmoatically the right thing to do.

What has all of that got to do with anything? Well, think about it, a nation which once had a very different attitude towards animals and conservation is introducing a law giving special protection to some species of sharks and that my friends is progress, small progress, but progress nonetheless.

Too little too late? Maybe, in fact probably, but if we react to news like this with a sigh and a shrug of the shoulders we will never solve anything. A win is a win and this small victory is a step in the right direction, it's not the species specific protection laws that made me see this in a positive light, it's the fact that the single biggest contributor from the developed world, to the unsustainable trade in sharks, has started taking the right steps in shark conservation and is listening to what the scientists there, scientists like my friend Gabriel Morey, have been telling them for years.

Let's hope this is just the beginning and nations like Spain continue to see the benefits in protecting not just sharks, but all marine life in the Med because boy does it need to happen and quick. it will take a miracle to rescue the Mediterranean but remember, miracles do happen!

Muchas gracias España
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Anna said...

As an animal lover, diver and u/w videographer that loves and tries to protect marine life, I feel very happy about the news and I agree, these good news are coming late, a lot of damage is already done, but finally something is being done. Movements begin with small steps. Not just in shark matters but also the Spanish government and lots of institutions and NGOs (can tell you plenty of them) are working into overfishing problems, marine pollution, cetaceans, coasts politics and a lot of other concerns that the Med and Atlantic and Cantabrian sea are facing.

As a catalan & spanish I must say something else... It took us a while too to ban bull fights in Catalunya, but we did it and hopefully the rest of communities in Spain will follow the example. Therefor I must say you are making generalizations about Spanish and our animal-human relationship as there are millions of us trying to fight against animal cruelties, marine conservation and protection, reinforcement of the laws, education... WE ARE NOT INDIFFERENT TO ANIMALS IN SPAIN. We are definitely not the best divers (I swear) or the more concerned country about environmental issues, but that doesn't put the whole nation under the same tag.
And by the way I should say that most of the public attending to bullfights in Spain (and other countries like Mexico) are American, English and Japanese citizens, no offense for these countries, but I'm pretty sure is the overseas tourism the one that is supporting the bullfights that still take place in some communities...
So keep up the good work but please try to avoid generalizations like the one on this entry.

OfficetoOcean said...

Hi Anna

That's a great cooment and I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say!

Point taken on the comment about Spain and its attitude to animals, I was meaning traditionally as opposed to generally but I can see how you took it that way, I was more pointing out the difference to here in Britain so I'm gonna re-word that bit to avoid any confusion. Gracias for pointing it out!

Thanks for your comment :)

Anna said...

Thank you for considering the re-word! ;)

OfficetoOcean said...

No problem at all, I can see how the previous wording could be taken the wrong way, I have seen for myself how young Spaniards are different in their attitudes to animals now compared to as recently as 20 years ago and I think this has gone a long way towards making things like this happen :)

Sorry for the misunderstanding!

Anonymous said...

Muy triste que el tiburon tenga tan mala reputacion, pero como dices, es un paso en el sendero correcto. Felicidades por tu aporte, y creeme que todos los dias hay mas gente consternada por el futuro del tiburon a nivel mundial.

OfficetoOcean said...

Gracias por tu comentario, estoy de acuerdo, el número de personas que se preocupan por los tiburones está creciendo todo el tiempo y eso es algo muy positivo! Yo estaba encantado de ver a España la adopción de medidas para ayudar a sus tiburones y espero que las futuras generaciones de niños en el Mediterráneo un día será capaz de ver los tiburones viven en sus mares y no sólo los acuarios.

Espero que esta traducción es correcta!