In our series about people with a passion for a species, we ask TV presenter and former Royal Marine James Glancy why he admires the oceanic whitetip.
Why are you championing this species?
Sharks have captivated me since I was a child. Aged 14, I learnt to dive and encountered my first bull shark on a family holiday in Florida. I’ve chosen the oceanic whitetip because it is an amazing fish that doesn’t have any champions. It used to be one of the most abundant shark species seen in deep water but has suffered huge declines. I’ve studied whitetips for years and got in the water with them while presenting a TV show in 2018.
What was it like to dive with oceanic whitetips?
During filming, I spent 43 hours in the ocean – free diving in the day and in a netted aluminium pen at night – to see how the sharks reacted to people in the water. In the first five hours, 12 whitetips showed up. At night their behaviour changed as they went into hunting mode, bumping into the pen with their snouts but they didn’t try to bite. As predators, they remind me of the way wolves or dogs act – on their own, they are unlikely to attack unless they are extremely hungry or aggravated but they are more dangerous when they work together and a few confident individuals make the first move.
Does it deserve its bad reputation?
In the media, oceanic whitetips are portrayed as lone, mindless killers and as one of the most dangerous shark species but
this is far from the truth. They are actually cautious, despite being bold, and are intelligent animals that rely on social interaction. These sharks are opportunistic scavengers.
Why is the whitetip in trouble?
Fishing pressure throughout its range is a huge threat to this highly migratory species. It is caught in large numbers as bycatch, in pelagic fisheries, longlines and gill nets. The rise in demand for shark-fin soup also makes them a prized target, because they have beautiful, long fins – once caught, their carcass is often discarded. In the Northwest and Western Central Atlantic, enormous declines have been reported. In the Gulf of Mexico, it’s thought to have declined by 98 per cent over a 30-year period.
How can we save it?
We need to create larger marine protected areas with proper enforcement; conserve populations by agreeing on international regulation for sustainable fishing policies; ban gill nets and reduce the use of long-line vessels and the amount they can catch. Educating people about how sharks are caught and where shark products end up is also really important.
What action do you want?
Political will to give this species and other sharks better protection. These apex predators need the same attention as elephants, rhinos and pangolins. On average, humans kill 100 million sharks a year. When you compare this to about six documented human deaths a year from sharks, humans are the threat, not sharks. Jo Price
S Whitetips are portrayed as lone, mindless killers but this is far from the truth. T