Saving the sharks
You can’t accuse Bobby Monroe of not thinking big. Horrified by the mass slaughter of sharks, largely to feed the Chinese appetite for shark fin soup, he has devised a strategy to save them.
The Marco Island resident, artist, filmmaker and activist, pointed to figures estimating that approximately 100 million sharks are killed every year by fishermen. In many cases, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the fishermen slice the dorsal fin off the shark, then toss the still living shark back into the ocean to die an agonizing death.
Shark fin soup has a venerable history in China and Vietnam, where it was traditionally reserved for the wealthy and special occasions. But with the burgeoning economy in those countries, especially China, millions are now able to afford the delicacy, causing the enormous increase in shark fishing.
Monroe reasoned that the only way to save the sharks was to convince the Chinese to stop eating shark fin soup, so that is what he has set out to do. To change the dietary preferences, in fact the entire culture of the world’s oldest culture and largest country is no small chore, and Monroe figured the way to approach the problem was through the younger generation.
“We want to convince the kids, and then they’ll convince their parents they shouldn’t be eating sharks,” he said. “We want them to look at sharks in a new way.”
So Monroe has created a series of prototypes of toys he hopes to have manufactured, featuring cool sharks married to cars and trucks – sort of a mashup of Transformers and the classic hot rods of Big Daddy Roth, along with a splash of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
“I bought 100 model cars, dumped them all out, and started Frankensteining them all together,” he said, adding models of various shark species as well as their human companions. In his mind’s eye, he envisions them as the favorite playthings of millions of Asian children, who then prevent their parents from wanting to consume sharks.
Monroe also has created the first of what he says will be many comic books – translated into Chinese – featuring the sharks as superheroes, to humanize them for the youth of China.
“Once you have a name for something, you tend not to want to eat it,” he said, sitting in the living of his Collier Blvd. apartment. He also has sketches and a miniature scale model of a shark-based museum and a waterpark.
To make his vision a reality is going to “take a sizeable investment,” said Monroe, and involve some major players in the toy, comic book, and animated film business. He has targeted Marvel Comics, Disney and its Pixar division, but realizes there is an uphill path to bring the plan to fruition – even apart from the obstacles of American companies doing business and attempting to proselytize in China.
“Marvel won’t even listen to pitches, because they don’t want to get involved in copyright disputes,” said Monroe. He created a 501(c)3 charitable organization, and went to the (ironically named) “Shark Tank” entrepreneur forum in Boston, but got no “bites.” Fundraising has been slow.
While sharks have a fearsome reputation even in this country, with the film “Jaws” just a symptom of the bad press these fish have received, most shark/human predation has sharks on the losing end. Fear of sharks is out of all proportion to their actual number of attacks on humans.
“Man eating shark” generally takes place at the table, not in the water. Many shark species have been put under incredible pressure in the last two decades, said Dr. Jose Castro, author of “The Sharks of North America,” due to overfishing, particularly for the Asian market and the popularity of shark fin soup.
The slow growth and lengthy, two-year gestation period of sharks makes them vulnerable, as it takes a long time for the population to rebound. Removing this apex predator from the world’s oceans could have vast and unforeseen consequences.
Monroe insists that sharks are not dangerous to humans, and says what we call “shark attacks” should be referred to as “shark tasting,” and that the sharks “don’t like how we taste.”
Monroe and his common-law wife, Betsy Monroe, just coincidentally have the same last name, they said. The couple has been together five years, and don’t limit their concern for wildlife to sharks. They serve as “critter couriers” for the Conservancy of Southwest’s von Arx
Wildlife Hospital, and regularly rescue pelicans and other birds that are injured or entangled in fishing lines. Both are vegans, and wouldn’t think of eating sharks or other creatures.
To learn more about the plight of the world’s sharks, read some of Monroe’s shark-themed comics, or support his efforts, go online to www.ecosharksrescue.org.