Washington Post environmental reporter Eilperin (Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives, 2006) travels the globe to explore the complex relationship between sharks and humans, issuing a passionate call for the protection of these diverse and majestic creatures.
Sharks inspire fear, writes the author, but as many people know, it’s largely groundless: “you are more likely to die from lightning, a bee sting, or an elephant’s attack than from a shark’s bite.” Yet this fear, along with commercial pressures, is driving some species to extinction. Before we feared them, sharks played important religious roles in societies from the Mayan empire to communities in the Niger Delta region. Eilperin witnessed the modern-day practice of “shark calling,” in which Papua New Guineans perform religious rituals and then catch sharks using lures and snares. (The practice is not wholly symbolic, as the meat is eaten and the fins sold.) Shark’s fin soup is an important symbol of wealth in China; however, after eating it, Eilperin calls it “one of the greatest scams of all time, an emblem of status whose most essential ingredient adds nothing of material value to the end product.” Nonetheless, shark populations are collapsing in part due to the commercial value of fins. Unfortunately, the author provides little clarity about which human activities (such as sport fishing and finning) have the most significant impacts on shark populations. Moreover, the book treats sharks as too monolithic, doing little to explain which particular species face the gravest threats. But Eilperin is convincing in her argument that many species will go extinct if current practices continue. She is optimistic about certain alternatives, like the shark-watching expeditions she saw in a Mexican village, where former fisherman now make their living guiding eco-tourists. With alternatives like this and the possibility of international agreements, Eilperin concludes that all hope is not lost for the shark.
A general but solid primer on the state of sharks today and a plea for their protection.