Begin Anew

And so we end 2014 and begin anew. What progress has been made this year and what have we learned? Quite a bit, actually.

The good news:
Pope Francis announced that dogs do in fact go to heaven. This is great news for all of us dog lovers out there who look forward to reunions with our much loved long lost pooches. It’s also a huge reversal on the long held great chain of being hierarchal theory that only humans are special. All of us dog-lovers have always felt this not to be the case and it’s a huge step for the leader of the Catholic Church to concur.
The largest marine park monument came into effect under US President Barack Obama. It’s three times the size of California and it is a no-go zone for fishermen, tourists and other terrestrials. Also under Obama, more land has been set aside for parks and reserves making the protected areas the largest in US history.
According to the Pew Charitable trusts, shark fin consumption was down 90% in Hong Kong in the past two years so hopefully Wildaid and Yao Ming have made a dent in the psyche of islanders, let’s hope they can do the same for the mainland Chinese where data is woefully and disturbingly unavailable.

Here is NSW, the government wisely decided not to dismantle the marine parks, thanks to public response and action. Let’s hope they don’t do a backflip. Also, the message of overfishing is finally getting out to the mainstream, and SBS’s “What’s the Catch?” added to this message. I have two friends who have stopped eating fish because of it and others who are foregoing the 4 staples, prawns, shark, tuna and salmon in favour of more sustainable species. This is great news.

The bad news:
Elephant and Rhino poaching in Africa is still endemic. A supposed 22,000 elephants were killed this year and the largest elephant ever recorded by biologists, Satao was killed in May. Biologists are recording that elephants now know that their tusks are putting them in jeopardy and are trying to hide them. Think about that for a moment. Elephants have witnessed such brutality against their kin and have watched poachers kill them and then cart away their tusks that they understand the connection and are trying to protect themselves by disguising their assets. Our knowledge of animal intelligence has a long way to go. That old joke of an elephant’s memory is no longer very funny when you consider that the remaining populations are all suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.
I am only talking about the mega fauna here, but lest we forget our frogs, toads, birds, bats, newts, voles and the all too many other endangered species around the planet.
There is much to be done and much has been done. Let’s hope next year we can add the end of elephant and rhino poaching to next year’s good news list.

Wishing you all a peaceful 2015.

Spearfishing Shark Bite Incident

On Monday in WA, a 17-year-old boy was unfortunately fatally bitten on the leg by a shark while spearfishing. That same night Channel 7 aired “Jaws”. Coincidence? Perhaps not. The mainstream media, like the government, seem to be lagging behind both the science and the public sentiment. The premise of “Jaws” is that a ‘rogue shark’ stalks the bathers of a coastal town. Many scholars including Dr. Christopher Neff have dismissed this theory. Yet, Collin Barnett and his government are playing the role of Quint and exacting revenge on these sharks they believe are stalking bathers.

The ABC has reported that bathers were in the water while the shark was around long before the bite incident. It seems the bathers were aware and were willing to make the choice to swim anyway. Their actions should speak volumes to the WA government and also to the NSW and Queensland governments about bathers’ willingness to make choices without the protection of lethal government legislation. None of the bathers were injured.

What is disturbing here is that the Guardian has reported that people had seen a large shark in the area days before but had not reported it to the water police. Barnett is saying this is why the shark spotter program is ineffective and won’t be deployed in WA. Could we surmise that people didn’t report it because they knew the government would kill the shark? There is no reason for the public to think any different. Could the public’s loss of faith in their government be the reason it wasn’t reported? If so, it is a indictment on this type of lethal government policy and a sure sign that drum lines should be completely abandoned to restore public confidence in their government.

The unfortunate bite victim had apparently already speared and caught some fish. Spearfishing, it is well known, can be a very provocative act if sharks are nearby. Their highly evolved sensory systems, which include their lateral line and the ampullae of Lorenzini, have had over 400,000,000 years of evolutionary tuning to hone in on the vibrations of struggling fish.

The ABC has also reported that the shark was speared in the mouth during the incident and may be injured and that WA Fisheries are looking for the shark. They have also set up two drum lines in response. Hopefully the public will not settle for this backward step response of yet again hunting a protected species. If WA does in fact catch and kill this injured shark and leaves the drum lines in the water, their intentions will be made clear for all to see.

The Guardian has reported that the Barnett government has spent $26 million on ineffective “shark hazard mitigation measures” yet refuse to use South Africa’s method of spotting sharks and warning bathers to get out of the water which only costs $265,000. Although Barnett say he takes no glee in killing sharks, it begs the question why they continue to do it. Scholars have all dismissed the “rogue shark” theory as being false, so then why does the government continue to hunt and kill sharks that injure bathers? It seems to be revenge.

Let’s hope they move forward, as they had been doing before this incident, and follow the science and the public sentiment by removing the drum lines and allowing bathers and sharks to make their own choices about sharing space at beaches. We don’t need governments to decide for us.

Let Heaven and Nature Sing

Let Heaven and Nature Sing

This line from Joy to the World has always filled me with wonder. As a child I pictured choruses of animals in the forests singing and the thought has always made me smile. It evokes images of Rankin Bass stop motion figures from those much-loved Christmas specials of the 1970s. I still love them and watch them all every Christmas.
Animals figure prominently in children’s stories and Rankin Bass are no exception. From The Little Drummer Boy’s companions Joshua the camel, Samson the donkey and Baba the lamb to Topper the penguin in Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the animals are always central characters in Christmas stories.

But I digress, back to heaven and nature singing. In my current readings, which are all critical of western thought and the separation between humanity and that problematic word, nature, this line, though separating heaven and nature, includes humanity as nature; we, all of us, living beings on the planet Earth. This line also brings to mind Timothy Morton and his assertion that ‘religion cries aloud in a green voice’. There is much to say on notions of peace at this time of year and it is nice to reflect on nature and peace not merely as loaded problematic words, but to reflect with a spirit of respect and gratitude in Val Plumwood’s words of how lucky we are for all the critters we are fortunate to share this planet with. Although I often feel we don’t deserve their company, I am continually grateful for it.

As Rufus, my cat of unlimited agency, lies beside me, I am reminded of how much he adds to my life (and my medical bills through his biting) and how our becoming together is an ongoing and ever-evolving process. I have never once been injured by a shark yet my familiar, my cat, has inflicted numerous injuries on me. I don’t begrudge him his ability to be a cat – a predator with sharp teeth and claws. I don’t begrudge sharks their ability to be who they are either. I wish for all of us the ability to keep evolving into new and better ways to be together and to share space with each other in a spirit that doesn’t diminish any of us.

I wish a very Merry Christmas to everyone of us.