by Savas Abadsidis on 2012-08-24
Juliet Eilperin is an award winning journalist at the Washington Post and has written one of the best non-fiction thrillers of the year: Demon Fish: Travels Through The Hidden World of Sharks, just out in paperback. For our money the best, page-turning narratives are immersive ones, and Eilperin excels at this. This is definitely a tome to take with you on your next journey. Juliet stopped by Escape Republic to share her knowledge during Shark Week!
What's the number one threat to sharks today?
There are actually two major threats sharks face: the global demand for shark's fin soup, a costly Asian delicacy, and accidental by catch. A growing number of Asian consumers are buying shark's fin soup, which is typically served during weddings and business meals, as a way of showing respect for their guests. This has prompted fishing operations to target sharks across the world, especially offshore in many developing countries, where a shark's fins fetch 65 times more money than its meat.
Scientists estimate that between 26 and 73 million sharks are killed each year to supply the fin trade, but tens of millions of sharks also die annually on lines and nets set for tuna, swordfish and other species.
Taken together, these two factors account for why roughly a third of all shark species face some risk of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Where are you likely to encounter sharks?
Since sharks are globally distributed, there are plenty of places one can encounter sharks in the ocean. They often congregate where there's abundant prey in the form of seals and sea lions, which can mean anywhere from South Africa's Eastern Cape to the central coast of California. And then there's New Smyrna Beach, Florida, which regularly tops the global list of shark bite incidents--many of the scrapes at this surfing mecca are fairly minor, and involve blacktip and spinner sharks.
What got you interested in sharks?
I became interested in studying sharks as a way of understanding the ocean, and our relationship to it. When I first got into the water with sharks off Bimini, in the Bahamas, I was struck by how beautifully they moved through the water. They seemed to operate in another universe, and I wanted to know more about it.
How do you feel about things like shark petting etc?
I'm not a fan of shark petting, and direct physical interaction with sharks. Not only can it pose a danger to humans, it's not an appropriate way of interacting with a wild animal. When I first entered the water with sharks, I was struck by how I was simply an afterthought for them. They were interested in feeding on barracuda, not eating me. We're lucky enough to enter their world from time to time and observe them, but unless you're conducting scientific research, there's no reason to physically handle them.
What do you do when a shark approaches you?
If you encounter a shark, try not to provoke it, and ideally, swim away at some point. But in a worst case scenario, if you're struck by a shark, punch it in the nose.