SOME of you must already be sick of hearing the song “Baby Shark.” I remember the first time I heard it was during one of Danjugan Island’s Marine and Wildlife Camps, before the song became viral. It was silly and we had quite a laugh dancing to it all summer. I didn’t expect to be hearing it everywhere now!
But even if the Baby Shark craze wears out as all fads do, I think it’s a good thing that sharks are in popular culture and in the consciousness of young kids (and adults!). It is a good starting point for discussions on the true nature of sharks – their roles in marine ecosystems and the plight of their species.
In the longer, fuller version of “Baby Shark” by comedian Mikey Bustos (check it out on YouTube), the funny parody is in fact, very educational and useful for advocating shark conservation. In one part of the Mikey’s version was: “The oldest shark species documented are 450 million years old… Before vertebrates walked on land, there were sharks!” I’ve been always amazed by this fact. Shark species appeared on Earth before dinosaurs have come and gone. Humans is just “new arrival” but we’ve managed to threaten the existence of sharks quite fast.
Later on in the song, you’ll hear “Don’t hunt these sharks because they can’t cure cancer nor osteoporosis… Don’t fear sharks because shark attacks are rare, when they see a human body they don’t care, we’re like rotten eggs, we’re yucky tasting to sharks!” I think these are important talking points about shark species, that we as a society got stuck with the evil or scary monster shark image perpetuated by Hollywood.
So enough of the lyrics and the Baby Shark LSS (Last Song Syndrome – you might still be humming the tune now!), but in the last two days I was very fortunate to be invited to “Ang Pinoy at Mga Pating,” a workshop and launching of the 2020 Conservation Roadmap for Sharks and Rays in the Philippines, in Golden Phoenix Hotel, Pasay City.
The Save Sharks Network Philippines (SSNP), led by Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, Save Philippine Seas and Greenpeace Philippines, organized the event. SSNP is a coalition of prominent voices in the Philippines’ scientific, non-government organization, and tourism communities advocating for shark conservation, and the organization I am working for – Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc. – is a new member of the coalition.
This event is timely, after the victorious inclusion and uplisting of several shark species in the Appendices of the 12th Conference of Parties (COP) on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) held last month in Manila. The Philippines is one of the countries that has a high concentration of sharks. Our 100-peso bill honors the butanding, or whale shark, which is fully protected by Philippine law. But most of the other hundreds of species of sharks in the country do not have the same level of respect and protection.
The 2020 Conservation Roadmap for Sharks and Rays in the Philippines has the vision for “Pating, Tumatagingting: A Philippines where all sharks are conserved for the benefit of all Filipinos.”
From SSNP: “A roadmap for conservation and protection of sharks was realized in November 2016 during the second Shark Summit in Dumaguete, one that will comprehensively tackle complex issues and will serve as a guide to align everyone’s efforts toward a common vision of conserving sharks and rays in the country. It was then developed in February 2017 by an interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder group of over 40 people. Now, the 2020 Roadmap is ready for distribution and circulation – it will articulate the clear conservation of sharks and rays in the Philippines.
Through the roadmap, SSNP is also urging politicians and lawmakers to pass a comprehensive law on the conservation of sharks, rays, and chimaeras in the Philippines. This would fill in the gaps in previous legislation, better protecting over 200 shark species in the country from unregulated tourism, bycatch, and directed fisheries. It will ensure the implementation of shark programs and interventions in a national scale.”
Sharks deserve the spotlight as they are key players in structuring food webs, whether they are at the top of the food chain or at lower trophic levels. However, they age slowly, mature late, and produce very few offspring at a time, and these characteristics make them vulnerable to threats.
As pointed out in the conservation roadmap, “sharks are typically depicted as apex predators that have significant top-down effects on food webs. They help keep prey populations healthy by feeding on weak, sick, or old fishes, and prevent overgrazing of critical marine habitats.
Therefore, the removal of sharks from an ecosystem has the potential to create significant changes to predator-prey interactions, affecting the whole system. Aside from ecological benefits, sharks and rays have also been proven to boost local economies sustainable tourism activities and through fisheries in many developing countries.”
As to the Baby Shark song – it does bring me a happy image. I love seeing juvenile reef sharks in the shallows. Remember that sharks become sexually mature late in their long life and when they do, they produce only very few offspring. The song can remind us how precious the Baby Shark is.
Published in the SunStar Bacolod newspaper on November 14, 2017.
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