Viral Video of Shark Dragging in Florida
It is often the most shocking cruelty that forces us to re-examine what is acceptable in society. It has been almost a year since a video went viral showing a shark dragged behind a boat at high speed. Sharks are unfairly demonized in popular consciousness. However, even if you wrongly view this animal as dangerous, the helplessness of the shark in this footage is unmistakenly apparent. This deplorable incident was condemned around the world. The men pictured in the video were identified to authorities via social media. The result? Four Florida men were charged in this shark dragging case. They faced felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty and misdemeanor counts of illegal methods to “take” a shark. All men pled not guilty to the charges.
“This was not an accident, it was purposeful and it’s deplorable and tragic…Sharks; they are not toys,” said Florida Aquarium Associated Curator Eric Hovland. Charges against one of the men have since been dropped. The trials of the remaining accused have faced delays.
What are the Guidelines for Marine Life Interactions?
Irresponsible Human Wildlife Interactions
In one account, a hundred divers and snorkelers jumped into the water to chase a single whale shark in the Maldives. This behavior is not surprising to those in the industry. Whale shark tours make good money from these experiences. With their livelihood reliant on successful interactions, they often don’t feel like they can place limits on their customers.
Social Media Through an Ethics Filter
What Happens When Behavior Is Not Illegal But Definitely Unethical?
A photo shared on social media shows a scuba dive professional from a Cozumel company capturing and holding a Splendid Toadfish. Another diver appears to be attempting to pet it.
Dive Instructor Manhandles Octopus
In 2015, dive certification agency SSI took action against a dive instructor in Vietnam. The dive professional had uploaded a video of him manhandling an octopus for dive tourists.
Adam Hanlon, editor of Wetpixel, reposted the video. He said the footage was ‘in breach of all environmental, professional or legal regulations.’ The concerned editor asked his followers to express their outrage directly to SSI. Following an established Grievance Resolution Procedure, SSI promptly responded to the outcry. They revoked the instructor’s license. SSI made a public statement announcing the termination of membership of the instructor as an SSI Dive Professional. They penalized the associated dive centres as well. These dive shops are no longer SSI-affiliated Dive Centres. Holding the community accountable to industry authorities resulted in satisfyingly clear action. This sends a message of steep consequences for such behavior.
How Can You Prevent Marine Life Harassment?
It is apparent that when incidents of harassment are seen on social media, the result is outrage and a demand for accountability. Take this to heart. If you witness an incident of marine harassment, take a selfie for good and document the behavior. Express your outrage to those participating and the business they are accountable to. The threat of lost consumers in the competitive, word-of-mouth tourism industry is a real concern for any smart businessperson. Share your captured footage with your online networks. Use social media to track down the identities of those involved. Bring the incident before a larger audience and ask them to add their voices to yours. As you can see, it works.
Scuba diver responsibilities: Get in front of the problem and choose a responsible dive operator to start. Be curious about the practices of your tourism operators.
NOAA Fisheries has published guidelines on feeding or harassing marine mammals in the wild.
Read Mark Crowley’s article on how to interact with marine life. He shares tips on being a responsible diver and how to avoid distressing marine animals. Crowley is the author of DIVE’s Easy Diving.
by Robert Frerck and Caitlin Flannery, Blue Ocean Network
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