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August 1, 2008

Wildfires are blazing in California, and hurricane season is upon us, but who cares? It’s Shark Week! Which means the Discovery Channel is presenting a full week of shark programming. Among the six new shows premiering, Mythbusters: Shark Special investigates whether chili powder repels sharks; Surviving Sharks tests whether kicking and splashing attracts sharks; Day of the Shark weighs in on what time of day is better or worse for avoiding sharks; and How Not to Became Shark Bait … well, the title says it all.

Reality check: The average North American is 15,000 times more likely to be killed in a car accident than in a shark attack.

As an antidote to the shark fever gripping the TV-viewing public, the global conservation group Oceana (oceana.org) released a report on July 24, showing how sharks are critical to healthy ocean ecosystems. The report, “Predators as Prey: Why Healthy Oceans Need Sharks,” details the devastating consequences oceans will suffer as shark populations decline. As the ocean’s top predators, sharks help regulate the abundance and diversity of marine life, the report explains. Their loss sets in motion a series of ecological chain reactions threatening the health of coral reefs as well as other habitats.

Among the actions the report recommends to preserve shark populations is to end shark finning. Shark finning, which involves cutting off the fin and discarding the wounded animal, accounts for 26 million to 73 million shark deaths annually—the fin is used to make soup.

To its credit, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the “Shark Conservation Act of 2008,” which improves existing laws intended to prevent shark finning; Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) introduced the same legislation in the Senate.

Speaking of real news: Not to miss the boat, so to speak, on Shark Week, CNN offered the spectacle of Anderson Cooper on assignment “swimming” with sharks; to Cooper’s credit he was featuring the sharks in a “Planet in Peril” segment, but still, it was worth it to see a celebrity journalist rather than an animal cowering in a cage for once.

—Amy Spitalnick, Associate Editor

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