What The Bachelor says about shark culling

Ashley Avci interrogates a cultural icon

Richie Strahan standing in suit. Richie Strahan standing in suit.

Like many people, I always viewed The Bachelor as junk food for my brain. There was no better feeling than returning to the couch after a long day of studying, to see Richie Strahan’s cool bananas. I’d become accustomed to the show’s antiquated heteronormative outlook, badly produced plot lines and downright blatant female exploitation – so I didn’t think much more about The Bachelor could shock me. But it did. Scrolling through my Instagram feed, there was the most recent Bachelor, proudly posing with a dead juvenile shark – for the sake of a ‘sweet Insta pic’.

Sharks are the most demonised animals on the planet – if it isn’t an iteration of the “Monster shark’s brutal attack” headline, it’s sharks ensnared and killed in drum line operations: trophy hunting, shark finning, or various other cruel acts, such as the person who left a Port Jackson shark in a freshwater puddle to die. The latest addition, courtesy of Richie, is the dead shark selfie.

However, the most alarming aspect drawn from this, is that not only are sharks the most demonised and misunderstood animals, they are one of the most important. Sharks are keystone species and apex predators, meaning that if they were removed from the ocean, the marine ecosystem would fall into disrepair and cease to exist, as we know it. The ocean produces 70 per cent of the oxygen we breathe and sharks play a critical role in that process – they provide us with life. Unfortunately, the closest we’ve come to a positive depiction of sharks in popular culture, is Bruce from Finding Nemo, telling us that “fish are friends, not food”. Given this, it’s easy to dismiss sharks as nature’s villains.

Scientists have predicted a global collapse of the world’s oceans by 2050 and in turn, human survival is at threat. The war on sharks, plastic pollution, climate change, ocean acidification and over-fishing all play a part in the current ocean crisis. Richie might find love on the show, but if he and others continue to persecute sharks, there may not be a world for him and one of his potential partners to raise a family and grow old in.

A conservative estimate approximates that 100 million sharks are killed every year, with likely numbers approaching up to 273 million sharks killed – that’s at least 11,417 sharks per hour. They’ve survived six mass extinctions and have thrived for over 450 million years – until now. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has found that a quarter of sharks and rays are facing extinction.
Unbeknownst to many, most species of shark reach sexual maturity between 15 – 20 years of age. Thus, killing baby and juvenile sharks takes away the opportunity for their populations to recover. The shark that Richie caught was clearly very young.

If sharks all over the world are being killed day by day, then why is the death of this one shark such a big deal? Other than killing a juvenile shark and impacting the future population of sharks, Richie is perpetuating the zeitgeist of trivialising cruelty to sharks in the media. You can easily draw comparisons between posing next to a dead shark and the widely condemned practise of posing next to a caged, anesthetised lion in South East Asia. The trivialisation of such forms of cruelty perpetuates the masculinity complex so inherently apparent in a show such as The Bachelor. Animal cruelty under the thin veneer of ignorance and being “an easy-going guy” is unacceptable in 2016.

Recently, Spanish footballer Marc Crosas was forced to apologise publicly for spearing an IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red listed baby angelshark. As a public figure, Richie has a moral obligation to adhere to current social values. When approached, he sardonically responded with “nice one!” and blocked anyone that commented on the photo expressing disappointment – the photo has since been removed.
Richie has a responsibility to listen to his followers and I call on him to make a formal public apology. It’s a sad state when a country can vilify a television star for making the wrong decision on a constructed reality show, but look the other way as he is associated with the ongoing vilification of one of nature’s most important species.