Sunday, October 2, 2011

PETA on Sharks: hotly contested billboard reinforces stereotypes

During the course of writing this blog over the past couple of years, many of my readers have come to appreciate a certain civility and thoughtfulness that I try to bring to my work. It's obvious by the subjects that I discuss that I am pro-conservation, pro-ocean, and pro-shark to name a few, but I rarely engage in rude put-downs or coarse language.

But PETA's latest billboard campaign truly tests my resolve. By showing a human leg dangling from the jaws of a white shark with the headline, "Payback is hell," this pro-animal rights group sets public awareness and support back a few notches by reinforcing stereotypes of the shark as mindless killers. Or actually, not mindless at all but cunning and vengeful - right out of a bad Jaws sequel.

Though PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) spouts some obligatory quotes about humans being the ultimate predator, not sharks; their real message is an anti-meat, pro-vegan position - which is fine to express but not at the expense of one of the very animals you claim to be protecting.

They may have thought, "Oh, people will get it. It's just a shark, just a picture." Well, in a world where American presidents have their nationality and their patriotism questioned, where climate change is expected to be cured by prayer, and where fallen soldiers are called "faggots" and said to have deserved to die; it's not all that hard to imagine many people viewing the PETA billboard and confirming to themselves that sharks are selecting humans for attack and therefore do not need our protection or concern - proof that the only good shark is a dead shark.

There have been many who have been assaulting PETA for this billboard and their stated rationale (as a follow up advertisement to a recent shark bite incident near the Gulf of Mexico.)

"With the recent shark attack in the news, we thought that it was a good time to bring this discussion up that will hopefully save lives, both human and animals," PETA Campaign Manager Ashley Byrne told The Huffington Post. "Sharks are not the most dangerous predators on Earth, we are. Americans alone kill billions of animals for food every year, including fish. And while sharks are natural carnivores, people can choose what they eat."

That's right, Ms. Byrne, sharks are natural predators, feeding on a wide range of animals which, in turn, helps to maintain a healthy and balanced ecosystem. And with their continuing loss through commercial fishing, that balance is quickly being thrown out of whack. But the 50 injuries and 5 fatalities that people experience from sharks on average each year are not the result of a concerted campaign of retaliation, as your billboard moronically implies.

Shame on you. If you feel you need to promote such a ludicrous statement to support your cause, then I suggest you rethink your cause. People can be fooled with misleading images and headlines and so, because of that, it is incumbent on anyone who believes a cause to be righteous to deal in truth always.

"Payback is hell." It's stupid, lame, misleading and basically just a flat out lie. And it's serious, not intended as humor or satire - so we will take it as the serious statement that it is and I along with many of my conservation and shark advocate colleagues will choose not to ignore but to soundly repudiate it.

If you wish to express your views to PETA regarding the billboard, you may fill-out an online message form at the Peta website. Click here.


OfficetoOcean said...

Brilliant as always Richard

Dani said...

Thank you for this. You are absolutely right. In order for any animal/fish/insect to be protected by the masses, people have to have empathy. What we fear we kill, ridicule or ignore. This is not the way to protect our oceans.

Dani @ ONNO Organic Clothing