14 May 2010

A Shark Story

Sometimes as a photographer you take a picture that you wish you did not have to take and then you don’t like it and you don’t do anything with it and it disappears onto a hard drive.

I took this picture in the harbour at Port Elizabeth in South Africa in 2004. They have been identified by a shark expert as Mako Sharks, not an easy identification as their jaws have been removed and they were lying upside down. They are apparently a legal form of by-catch of the trawl and long line fishing industry. They were apparently on their way to be processed and will appear in a fish and chip shop as fish or, more likely, in the form of fish cakes. It is a strange world where something as big as those two sharks are “accidentally” caught. It is quite sickening to think that the jaws were removed to make a wall decoration. According to a young fisherman the jaws with a light bulb stuck between them, looks cool as a light fitting. A bit of red paint apparently adds a bit of authenticity. I let this image gather cyber dust on a hard drive for the last 7 years.

Then in The Herald, a local newspaper last week was a headline “shock discovery of seal remains.” Seems harbour security found “the skulls and pelts of four seal were found in the bags in the boot with parts of 15 starfish, the jaws of two Mako Sharks, the head and feet of a Cape Gannet…”

About 20 years ago I took part in beach walks and our aim was to monitor the birds that washed up. I remember many bird wings without bodies and albatrosses without heads. I found an old recipe book that listed methods of cooking sea birds. There was a recipe for braised Gannet amongst others! I was angry and wrote about seabird slaughter for the cooking pot and it was published and like all these things nothing happened. After a while we also stopped the beach walks because our cars were broken in too often.

The people who were caught with the strange luggage they tried to smuggle past security appeared in court on Wednesday. They will be charged under the Seabird Seals Preservation Act and the Marine Living Resources Act and the contravention of the by-catch recording process. The animal parts were confiscated. According to the newspaper they were meant for the sangoma muti market. The traditional healers (sangomas) must find their medicines (muti) somewhere and it is logical that there would be a market for them.

I don’t know what conclusion to draw from what I have written. In an old book I have on fishing in South Africa there is a picture of a fisherman with a Cape Fur Seal that he caught using a fishing rod as though the seal were a fish and the caption reads “ex Africa simper aliquid Novi.”

I would just like to discover something new that is nice for a change. I am tired of the environment and its inhabitants being maimed and mutilated.

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