Saving Sharks, One Hook at a Time

Posted on March 29, 2011
Written by: Jim Abernethy

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I'd like to introduce you to an old friend of mine, Captain Ron. I named him right after seeing the very
funny 1992 movie of that name, because both Captain Rons are missing their left eye. This Captain Ron is an 8 foot male lemon shark, and whenever I see animals afflicted with some type of injury, I feel sorry for them, as I know they have to work that much harder in order to survive. 

Every time that I've seen Captain Ron for the past decade, I've been delighted that he's still with us. However, when I saw Captain Ron this past week, I noticed that he had picked up a large "J" hook in his upper jaw.

I wanted to remove the hook, but it was in a precarious position very close to his teeth.

But I also knew that I had been extremely successful in the past at removing hooks from lots of sea creatures. The process is similar to what you might do with a dog or cat when you want to clean its ears or any other sensitive area. You start by gently touching and caressing the animal until it gets comfortable; you don't rush in and try to do things in a hurry. However, this is not something that you should try on your own with sharks. As with any wild creature, there is always a chance that you could be bitten. I think perhaps one of the reasons I was successful in removing Captain Ron's hook is because he was habituated to me and my staff, based on our ten-year relationship.

I started the process by holding onto Captain Ron's nose for short periods of time as he swam by, while caressing his head to try to calm him and get him relaxed enough for me to remove the hook. After many swim-by attempts of trying to get him comfortable with me holding onto his snout, I finally thought that he was ready. I grabbed onto his nose with my right hand, and while he lay there almost motionless, I removed the hook with my left hand. It was as if this beautiful, powerful creature knew my intentions, relaxing without attempting to bite me, as I helped him by removing what must have been a painful impediment.

From my many years of experience with many different creatures, I can say without a doubt that animals are far more intelligent than we give them credit for. I hope you realize from this story that all of our efforts to save these magnificent creatures, no matter how small our individual contributions may seem, will make a huge difference in the end. Even if it's just to remove the pain from a single hook or convince a single restaurant not to serve shark fin soup, what you do matters. As Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Jim Abernethy