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Swimming for the Sharks

Ocean News

A local fundraiser's focus was to help put a stop to the cruel practice of "finning," which is depleting the world's shark population.

Some larger species of sharks have rows upon rows of razor sharp teeth designed for ripping and tearing flesh, can smell one drop of blood in a million drops of water, and can dislocate and protrude its upper jaw to help it grab and hang onto prey.

Not what you'd call cuddly critters, sharks are important and worth protecting, which is why swimmers, snorkelers, and divers with Langley Diving gathered in a section of the Walnut Grove Community Centre's pool last week.

The "fin-a-thon" supported Project AWARE, a world-wide initiative to protect not just sharks but the future of our underwater world.

Langley Diving owner and PADI Course Director Les Newman spearheaded the event with the co-operation of the Township of Langley, Canada.

"The Township has stepped up with support for the pool and our customers have been out getting pledges," Newman said, prior to the event.

"Every cent of every dollar will go to Project AWARE and their fight against shark-finning. Langley Diving is covering all other costs."

According to Project AWARE, overfishing is driving sharks to the brink, with many populations down by 80 percent. Tens of millions are killed each year for their meat, fins, liver, and other products.

The practice of "finning" (removing shark fins and discarding the often still alive shark at sea) is fueled by the demand for the Asian delicacy, shark fin soup.

The critically acclaimed Canadian documentary Sharkwater by Rob Stewart tells the horrendous story of sharks being caught, finned and thrown back into the water still alive to die so their fins can be made into what most argue is a tasteless soup.

Langley Diving Fin-a-ThonNewman said millions of sharks are killed each year and in many cases, still-living sharks are thrown back into the water after they've had their fins hacked off. They then either drown, or are eaten by other fish.

Funds were raised by the number of laps the participants completed, the total distance they covered, or the time they spent in the water.

Supported by Langley Diving and the Township of Langley, the fundraiser generated close to $2,000 with 100 per cent of the proceeds going to Project AWARE and the organization's initiatives to protect sharks and the world's oceans.

One supporter, Remax agent Dean Miller, will donate up to $300 to Project AWARE for every person who buys or sells a house through him until June 1 if they mention the project.

Newman, who has been in the water with sharks including great whites in South Africa, has a deep passion for the cause.

Newman said the 1975 horror classic Jaws gave sharks a bad rap.

"More people are killed every year by domestic pets like dogs than by sharks. It's a fear of the unknown that is destroying the environment," he said. "People will watch zombie movies and know it's not real. They watch Jaws, and they think it's real."

A single shark fin can sell for $300, but it is a one-time purchase - and the shark dies. Places like Palau have turned the eco-tourism benefit of letting people dive with the sharks into an $18 million a year enterprise to the local economy without having to kill a single animal.

Newman will be leading a group of divers to the South Pacific in April and will dive with the sharks in Palau on the trip.

Photo courtesy of Troy Landreville, Langley Advance - For more photos check out the Fin-a-Thon Photo Gallery

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