Cartoon shark joins ocean conservation

The cause to protect endangered marine species has a new versatile spokesperson.

Shark Stanley, the internationally recognized mascot of an ongoing campaign to regulate the international shark trade, is also the protagonist of a new children’s book. “The Adventures of Shark Stanley and Friends,” written by students at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, features four marine characters that are threatened by overfishing and the exploitation of ocean environments. The book was first released online on Jan. 30 and is currently available in print.

The character of Shark Stanley was born last year when Leah Meth FES ’14 and Onon Bayasgalan FES ’13 decided online petitions were not contributing enough to the fight to implement sustainable shark fishing practices. Instead of presenting a list of signatures at the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok this March, Meth and Bayasgalan will be presenting a collection of over 1500 photographs of individuals from 111 countries posing with a Shark Stanley cutout.

Both Meth and Bayasgalan said they believe the Shark Stanley campaign has the potential to be more successful in the cause for conservation of marine environments than previous petition campaigns have been.

“There’s much less commitment with other petitions, when all you have to do is sign or type your name in,” Bayasgalan said. “But getting a photograph taken with Shark Stanley requires more investment because you have to cut it out and think about the issue more.”

The new children’s book serves as an educational tool as well, Bayasgalan added.

While previous campaigns have relied on catchy taglines, the idea for the children’s book is to depict the complexities of the issue, which increases awareness and makes the campaign more effective, Meth said. The story includes a description of the global nature of the shark fin trade and an explanation of how killing these predators can harm the entire environment, she added.

Ben Goldfarb FES ’13, who co-wrote the storybook with Meth, said that personifying the four main characters is a good way to reach children and convey “the moral horror of killing really beautiful creatures.” Instead of just signing a petition to protect sharks, readers get to know Stanley the hammerhead shark, Pierre the porbeagle, Waqi the whitetip and Manta Reina the manta ray, all of whom come with “rich back story,” Meth said.

The goal is not to convince CITES to enforce an absolute ban on the shark fin trade, but rather to “bring in a more strict system in terms of export and import” so that these species are fished sustainably, Meth said.

Lack of data on marine species and the popularity of shark fin soup in Asian countries are the primary reasons it has been difficult to win protection for these sharks in the past, Goldfarb said.

“If tigers were as depleted as hammerhead sharks are right now, there’s no question that they’d get protection,” he said. “We don’t know as much about the oceans as we do about terrestrial systems, so it’s been harder in the past to make a case that these species are endangered.”

But Goldfarb said he is “confident” that this year, CITES will recognize the need to protect these species because of increased support for the issue.

While getting CITES to enact policies to stop overfishing of these shark species is the immediate goal, the campaign’s long term hope is that Asian consumers will view shark fin soup as “morally incomprehensible” and reduce the global shark fin market, he added.

The team plans to expand the Shark Stanley campaign with an illustrated ocean conservation workbook.

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