Why is Wendy Rhodes kissing this shark?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2000:

Education and Action for Animals president Wendy Rhodes [above], of Redondo Beach, California, is kissing this formerly captive nurse shark––about to be released––to make observers ask questions, she admits.

Rhodes wants people to question their attitudes toward sharks, toward keeping captive sharks, and toward keeping any animals captive for entertainment.

The nurse shark in the photo, previously kept at a San Jose pizza restaurant, is one of six Rhodes has rescued within the past year from tanks they have outgrown. They were returned to the sea with the help of more than 50 sympathizers.

Sharks are increasingly popular not only as pets but also as stars of aquariums which have found them less costly to obtain and keep than marine mammals, and less controversial. The Oregon Coast Aquarium, for instance, on April 5 stocked the 200,000-gallon tank formerly occupied by Keiko, the orca star of the Free Willy! film series, with 19 leopard sharks.

Rhodes admits that familiarizing people with sharks by keeping small species in captivity may help to dispell irrational fears. But she also points out that nurse sharks are not an appropriate pet species, though commonly sold as pets, because they can grow to 14 feet long and live to age 40.

To give the nurse sharks she releases the best possible chance of survival, Rhodes turns them loose only in National Marine Sanctuaries, where commercial fishing is prohibited. As nurse sharks spend most of their lives lying still on a sandy bottom, they are less likely than migratory species to swim into waters where they might be killed for their fins.

Finning has been banned in U.S. Atlantic waters since 1993, but continues in the Pacific, centering on Hawaii, where the fins of 60,857 sharks were landed in 1998, mostly for export to Japan. A bill to stop finning in the Pacific was introduced in Congress on January 27 by Representatives Randy Cunningham (R-California) and Jim Saxton (R-New Jersey). It would require fishers to land whole carcasses, not just fins.

A similar bill, applying only to Hawaiian-based vessels, was approved on April 5 by the Hawaii state senate committee on water, land, and Hawaiian affairs.

Real progress for sharks appears more likely to result from research by John C. Harshbargar, of George Washington University. Contradicting common belief that sharks don’t get cancer, Harshbargar told the American Association for Cancer Research on April 5 that at least 40 types of tumor have been found in sharks of various species.

“It’s true,” acknowledged William Lane, whose 1992 book Sharks Don’t Get Cancer helped touch off a global boom in demand for shark fin and powdered shark cartilage.

Wendy Rhodes initially focused on more familiar causes, including traveling circus use of elephants and captive dolphin shows, but scored her first big success––after four years of escalating effort––with the April 1999 cancellation of the Redondo Beach Lobster Festival.

Among the people and organizations helping her with shark releases are Rick Trout, cofounder of the Marine Mammal Conservancy in Key Largo, Florida, and Steve Hindi, founder of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, a.k.a. SHARK.

Hindi was a noted shark fisher before turning to animal rights activism. He quit fishing after witnessing the 1989 Labor Day pigeon shoot in Hegins, Pennsylvania, as he explained in a May 1995 ANIMAL PEOPLE guest column, “Confessions of a repentent fish-killer.” It remains accessible at www.animalpeoplenews.org/hindifishkill.html. .

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