Travel/Experiences  •  2GoGreen

Welcome to Shark Week!

For this year's Shark Week we caught up with Paul Friese of Bali Sharks and asked him such insightful questions as "How can we not get eaten by a shark?" and "Can sharks do tricks like dolphins can?"

July 27, 2017
That’s right: Shark Week is back. The weeklong all-shark programming from Discovery channel that has been titillating us for nearly two decades is on all week! To honor the mighty shark 2mag sat down with regional shark guru Paul Freise of Bali Sharks.

Are most sharks dangerous or harmless?
PF: Harmless

What is the main reason for sharks becoming endangered?
PF: Overfishing

Are sharks more afraid of humans than we are of them, as other animals are?
PF: Most species are afraid of humans. Out of about 500 species, less than 5% have had incidents with humans. Less than ten people are killed annually involving sharks, in contrast to the tens of millions of sharks killed by humans.

Are there vegetarian sharks?
PF: Not sure, but there are a few species that eat plankton, such as whale sharks, megamouth sharks, and basking sharks. I think nurse sharks have been known to eat algae.

Are sharks intelligent creatures?
PF: Sharks appear to be much smarter than people think and only recently some research is revealing their social hierarchies and behaviors, as well as them showing moods and emotions. If you’re asking if they know asthmatic, probably not. Then again many people can't figure out [not] fishing more than can be sustained (which does not make humans look to intelligent).

How intelligent are they?
PF: Smart enough to be one of the oldest living species and despite their slaughter, they will most likely adapt and outlive humans.  We once had a pregnant shark with some decent sized jacks (fish) in the same pen. When we threw [dead] fish in [to feed the shark], the shark checked it out and swam away without eating, which seemed strange. The jacks began to peck away [at the dead fish] as the shark started doing circular rotations, closing the range on the feeding fish. Sure enough, on about the 20th rotation it nails one of the live fish. Let’s just say many humans would have taken the free meal while the shark calculated its hunt. Maybe they can count after all.

Dolphins and Orca can both do tricks, can sharks do tricks?
PF: I've had a Black Tip reef shark shadow me every time I swam in his nursery. It actually swam under me with the tip of its dorsal under my chest. Weirder than that was a black tip that would swim and rest on my shoulder while I was filming. It did that several times to me as if it were looking at the viewfinder as the director. But they do play around; I had them play with objects like eelgrass. I have a picture of two sharks almost competing for my attention with eelgrass: one on its pectoral and one on its snout. Luckily I had a camera or no one would have believed it.

Why do sharks attack people?
PF: Territorial incidents, curiosity as we wipe out their food supply, as well as mistaken identity.

What type of sharks does Bali Sharks save?
PF: Mostly benthic or reef zone sharks such as white and black tips, carpet, and cat shark species.

Why is it important to save these particular sharks?
PF: They keep these zones in balance and the marines ecosystems alive.

If one of the sharks you saved bites someone, isn’t that your fault?
PF: It already has but the person was instructed not to hand feed the sharkies. In six years I have yet to be bitten although realize it’s a numbers game.

Should all sharks be saved? Even the ones that eat people?
PF: Sharks don't eat people and if we stopped messing with them they wouldn't need to be saved in the first place.

Is shark fin soup actually good for people?
PF: It’s actually bad for people and the neurotoxins in shark, such as mercury levels, are unregulated and often above acceptable levels. The last five sharks I tested ranged from 1.8 to 3.6 parts per million vs World Health Organization’s 0.5 ppm suggested safety limit. The myth that [eating] sharks stops cancer is ridiculous.

Is eating people actually good for sharks?
PF: Once again, they don't eat people but if they did I'd say good for the sharks as they have a long way to go to even up the score.

How can we prevent being eaten/bitten by a shark?
PF: Run for the hills and move to the mountains. But a few simple tips would be not swimming at dawn or dusk or when there is murky water.

What should one do if attacked by a shark?
PF: Try to stop the bleeding and stay calm. Easier said than done, depending on severity.

Is it true that if you turn a shark upside down, it goes to sleep?
PF: That's referring to a state called "tonic immobility" which is like hypnosis that they are prone to. We flip them upside down sometimes to ease the handling and transferring of them.

What is the current state of the shark fin industry?
PF: It’s still business as usual out there. Few NGOs are making speculative justifications in trying to claim consumption is down. Scala Restaurants in Bangkok quoted me that they average about 200,000 [THB] a day in soup fin sales. The fishery is still rampant but moved out of public

What is the big deal if all the sharks die out? Like, if all the sharks died, wouldn’t that just mean more tuna for us?
PF: Sharks actually maintain the balance of the seas, which give us over 50% of our oxygen. So they keep reefs, sea beds, etc. in balance. They keep the turtles from eating all the seagrass which creates oxygen and stores carbons. The keep the predator fish from eating all the herbivore fish so we can have healthy reefs. Sharks pretty much feast on the dying and sick stuff out there not necessarily the tuna. Only a few species would hunt tuna.  

How is Bali sharks helping save the sharks?
PF: We have saved 242 sharks to date and have been able to control where we release so as to create new ecosystems from dying zones. But we also disrupt the illegal fisheries and distribution channels. Several airlines have committed to stop shipping shark fin and we have been a part of that effort. But over all, teaching and offering fishermen alternatives to the “kill all fish” mentality has gained the best results. We are also going to begin educating governments and protection agencies with our neurotoxin research, and hopefully they make responsible decisions regarding shark consumption.

Who is your favorite movie shark and why?
PF: JAWS. It’s just the classic shark horror flick.

What is your favorite kind of shark?
PF: A live one.

To watch live shark week, visit Discovery Channel online. 
To learn more about Bali Sharks, visit them on Facebook or the Bali Sharks website.