Why do we need to save sharks?
Experts estimate sharks are slaughtered at a rate of 100 million a year worldwide, mostly to satisfy demand for shark’s fins in Asian cuisine. This rapid fall in its population has caused the rise of another apex predator: the Humboldt squid. Ironically, this was the animal that first sparked my curiosity of the ocean, when I read about it in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a child. The population boom of this squid, which typically breeds in warm currents, has encouraged it to consume everything in its path, from coral and fish to seals and baby sharks. Thanks to global warming and the El Nino effect, the squid population has taken over cooler areas and are rapidly decimating whole reefs. Without sharks to keep the Humboldt squid population in check, whole ecosystems may be wiped out.
What sparked your love of sharks?
While diving in the Bahamas in the early 90s, I met a 500kg tiger shark that I named Emma. When I first saw her, she charged at me. In my panic, I stepped backwards and slipped on a Louisiana licence plate on the seabed. As the plate flicked up, she grabbed it in her mouth and swam away. That’s when I realised it was her toy. Someone else has probably been playing with her regularly and left the plate there. I played fetch with Emma for 45 minutes. This made me wonder: “Why would this fearsome animal take time to play with a human being?” This was clearly a very intelligent creature. A month later, I saw a man hang a similar-looking tiger shark on the dock as a trophy. I felt my heart sink as I thought she was Emma. Thankfully, Emma appeared at her playpen a few weeks later. I realised that these otherwise terrifying creatures are actually gentle, innocent and intelligent beings capable of loving you – just like your family dog.
How are you going to help shark-saving efforts in Asia?
Together with Luminox, I’ve partnered with a Malaysian non-govermental organisation, Shark Savers Malaysia, and launched the “Luminox Saves The Seas Campaign” to reach out to the public on the importance of protecting ocean ecosystems in the region. As part of the campaign, I will be conducting a study on the coasts of Sabah, which is home to one of Asia’s last population strongholds of the hammerhead shark. I hope to discover how the shark population has managed to thrive in these waters. It won’t be just a study of the ecosystem; we’re also going to learn how eco-tourism has helped protect marine life in the area.
Scott Cassell is now teaming up with Luminox to protect coral reefs. Catch a glimpse of The Great White, the submersible Cassell uses for his conservation efforts, at the “Luminox Save The Seas II” exhibition – now on at the Raffles City Shopping Centre from Aug 29 to Sep 2, 2013.