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About: Sharks at Risk
Originally broadcast on July 12, 2006.
"Now, more than ever, two myths must be laid to rest. One, sharks are not mindless predators nor sinister man-eaters, and two, the oceans are not full of sharks."
For thousands of years,
Brutal modern fishing practices, such as
In Sharks at Risk, Jean-Michel Cousteau and his team meet sharks face-to-face in two intense expeditions. The first takes place in
There are two harmful myths the divers hope to dispel: that sharks are bloodthirsty man-eaters and that sharks are everywhere. The plain fact is that of the nearly 400 species of sharks, few are known to attack people. The rare attacks are usually cases of mistaken identity -- a shark mistakes a swimmer for a tasty seal or other preferred
At Rangiroa, the team dives into the sharks' feeding grounds: the nutrient-rich waters surrounding the atoll. Even for the experienced Cousteau team, diving with large numbers of sharks is a new and exciting experience and one that must be taken very seriously. The divers see such exotic creatures as
The village of Rangiroa, which rises only 10 feet above sea level, is home to approximately 3,000 residents. The livelihood of the entire community depends upon the continued abundance of the sea, and they understand that the key to the future is conservation and balance. The fishermen of Rangiroa now have to respect new limits on fishing, and breaking these rules is punishable by jail. The Cousteau team visits a local family fishery that uses simple traps to catch the fish as they swim in with the tides.
Despite local efforts, the fish are disappearing from the lagoon and the open sea. Foreign long-liners are multiplying "like seaweed," says one local fisherman. The changes brought by
The market for sharks -- sharks fins to be exact -- is growing. In Asia, where serving shark fin soup is a sign of prosperity, a single pound of shark fins can sell for $328. As a result, the shark is a profitable target. Finning is a brutal practice. The sharks are stripped of their fins while the rest of their bodies are thrown back into the sea as waste. It is an unprecedented slaughter, and the ultimate effects may well be catastrophic -- not just for sharks, but for the entire sea.
Off Rangiroa during the mating season of the gray reef shark, the Cousteau team encounters competitive and territorial male sharks
The Cousteau team leaves Rangiroa and heads to the rugged coast of South Africa, searching for a different encounter. Here they will greet the famous, ferocious shark of legend -- the great white. Reaching up to 20 feet long and weighing up to 4,000 pounds, great whites are able to swim in bursts up to 25 miles per hour. They live primarily in the waters off the coasts of the northeastern United States, Northern California, Australia and South Africa, which is home to one of the largest concentrations. Here, in a channel between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock, is "Shark Alley," so named for the large concentration of sharks that feed off the nearby
Jean-Michel's guide here is Andre Hartmann, a commercial fisherman turned shark tour guide. Jean-Michel and Andre take two carefully planned dives to get up close and personal with these massive predators of the deep. First, a 15-foot-long great white approaches, curious, and taps a hard piece of camera equipment with its nose. The 1.5-ton animal remains unthreatened and takes its time before swimming away. The second dive is more intense. Jean-Michel and Andre snorkel near the surface, a very vulnerable position because great whites tend to feed from the sea floor up. An enormous great white advances, and the divers are careful not to provoke it. There is a waiting game. Eventually, the shark allows the divers to touch it. Then, amazingly, unlike its terrifying man-eating reputation, the great white allows the divers, one at a time, to grip its dorsal fin and be taken for a ride through the clear blue waters.
This great white showed itself to be a more complex creature than its cruel man-killing image. Similarly, the shark as an entire species is more complicated than most people know. Sharks are difficult to study, and every day, scientists are gaining knowledge about these predators that is changing our understanding of them. At the same time, new and increasing dangers are threatening their very existence. With Sharks at Risk, the Cousteau team hopes that more people will understand the complexity of these majestic creatures and the vital role they play in the fragile ecosystems of our oceans and our planet.
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