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I'm in my third and final year of my environmental science degree. I am passionate about the environment and believe the key to environmental management lies in careful communication among all members of society. To communicate science is to create a shift and is to bridge the gap between science and society. Humanities decision to both conserve as well as reverse environmental impact concern is a task appointed to many and we must all work together if change is ever to occur. I aim to be part of this change, through both research and education, which I believe will alter the fate of the planet for the better!

Shark ecotourism -The no bull shark approach

Shark ecotourism – The no bull shark approach

Two weeks ago I was assigned the task of writing up a ‘mock briefing’ as part of one of my subjects at University. I was given the topic ‘Is shark ecotourism teaching sharks to hunt humans?’  I performed a quick Google search and scoured Wikipedia for some general knowledge on the subject. Yes, Wikipedia! It’s no secret that even scientific professionals will consult Wikipedia for a well laid out easy to read concept- before seeking the crux of deeper knowledge of scientific journals and peer reviewed books – our most trusted and trialled order; the scientific sophistication the likes of which Wikipedia will never replace. But, something shocked me, Wikipedia didn’t have anything on shark ecotourism. And, I wondered why? Then I adjusted my search to say ‘shark tourism’, ‘finally’, I thought, ‘some facts that the public has access to’. However, I was shocked; the whole definition is half a page long! There are missing citations and there is no information on it. I felt it was almost deliberate! I had this overwhelming sense of discontent; it would appear the public is blissfully unaware of both the benefits of shark ecotourism and the myths surrounding shark ecotourism. And . . . like the proverbial dribble that shrouds our crackpot science minister (or lack thereof) total (but blissful) ignorance ensues.  With such uncertain frames of mind surrounding the myths of sharks and shark attacks, it’s a no wonder members of the public and private sectors have sensationalised beyond provision!

There are whole pages and completely ‘personal’ accounts of why sharks are dangerous, or why sharks are bad, or why some over stimulated sensationalist maniac ‘won’t dive with sharks’. The appalling monstrosity of modern ‘opinion’, blankets the foundations of knowledge and it drips into every avenue and gets so caught up, sometimes the truth is barely heard.

Not surprised, I braved the social media network and asked a few discerning questions about sharks, and the avid responses that came back, shook my blood and bones and you may as well have left me for dead.  With conviction, I kept my cool and asked such questions ‘do you think sharks are learning to hunt humans?’  ‘Do you think sharks should be culled because shark attacks have increased since sharks have found a taste for human blood?’  I writhed inside as I asked these questions, but it had to be said, the whole thing just had to be said.  Responses included ‘yes of course, what about those guys who were hunted and all of those surfers, you know those guys that got killed whilst surfing, they are definitely learning to hunt humans those things are crazy, they definitely need to do that culling sorta thing’. I couldn’t think of any story or specific time or date where these ‘crazy attacks’ took place and certainly couldn’t deduce much from the aforementioned opinions of my fellow human beings.

Ladies and Gentleman, this is what we call anecdotal evidence, it means exactly what it says ‘a personal account not necessarily true or reliable’, now I don’t blame these individuals for their ‘fear and moral panic’ but that doesn’t mean it should be the way that it is. Not to mention, not one of the varied responses I got had any connections with the word ‘ecotourism’ it was almost as if, they hear the word shark and their mind is made up!  They hear the word ‘man eater, killer, hunting humans’ and all logic goes out the door.

Last week, the rawness of the situation and the sensationalist opinion that scours the internet in droves, finally got to me. I became discontent and frustrated with the idea that humans are so caught up in this false perception of a marine creature.  I’m putting these anecdotal claims to sleep, and for all who will listen I am laying down the cold hard facts about shark ecotourism and it’s beneficial practices to bring to the world a new world view on the ‘tripe’ that has flooded the scientific airways for millions of Australians.  Bellow is an exact account of scientific peer reviewed literature, that will instil knowledge the likes of which Mr Google and Mr Wikipedia and their unhelpful ‘non-citat-ed’ offspring have represented about some of the most ‘feared, abused and ‘attacked’  creatures the world has ever seen.  So without further ado,  I bring to you SHARK SCIENCE! A non scary, non fear provoking, never-to-make-it-through, non cranked up, non demoralising, non fear mongering, non-anthropomorphising – truthful view of sharks.

Now, let’s ask the question: Does shark ecotourism ‘teach’ sharks to hunt humans? First, let’s cut the bull shark, because there answer is NO, but here is WHY –  the answer is NO. Because I want to be serious, I’m not going to add to the already tainted emotional context of sharks. This ‘fact check’ is the ragged shark tooth, that’s right, nothing but the shark truth!

Is shark ecotourism ‘teaching’ sharks to hunt humans?

Summary

Anecdotal evidence claims that shark ecotourism in Australia – along with the activities – is ‘teaching’ sharks to hunt humans.  Activities such as choosing a site and attracting sharks to a dive site as well as cage diving create unnecessary public concern, despite a lack of scientific evidence on the subject. This briefing, reviews current scientific literature and evaluates the likely hood that shark ecotourism practices, may or may not contribute to adverse behaviour in sharks in Australian waters. These issues with public concern have the potential to impact the tourism industry, has already caused a further decline of shark populations (such as great whites) and lead to unnecessary claims that sharks-since the introduction of ecotourism are being taught to hunt humans.

Background

Like all ecotourism, shark ecotourism involves getting up close and personal with the animals in their natural environment.  It allows the public to observe sharks from a safe distance to experience firsthand the behaviour of sharks – as they exist in natural conditions, with the aim to educate the public on the importance of shark conservation and dispel myths about shark behaviour (Lobel, 2008).  As humans are increasingly interacting with sharks in their natural environment, there are a number of concerns regarding the impacts these activities have on sharks. Wrongful portrayal of sharks in the media have lead to the opinion that the location of ecotourism sites and cage diving, as well as the methods used to attract sharks, are instilling hunting behaviour in sharks, despite there being no scientific evidence to support this.

Shark attacks V’s shark ecotourism sites

Sharks are formidable predators, they hunt down their prey and predatory attacks occur at the surface (Martin et al, 2009).In Australia, the past 50 years have resulted in 53 shark related deaths (West,2011). Shark attack frequency is however on the rise, and scientists attribute this to a decrease in the sharks natural prey source, coupled with an increase of humans in the water, which leads to sharks to coming into contact with humans more frequently, due to a decrease in the availability of natural prey (Buzzacott, 2005).  Ecotourism is situated where sharks are located, concern among the public is that, shark ecotourism locations are contributing to conditioning behaviour among sharks, increasing the risk of shark attack and sharks viewing humans as food. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this.

Studies show, the risk and or probability that a shark attack will occur is very small, with an even smaller probability it will result in a fatality (table 1), whereby studies show, the chances are negligible (West, 2011). However, most shark attacks do occur in areas where more humans are present, indicating, the probability increases when more people enter the water (Bres, 1993) (figure 1). In spite of this, scientific studies have found no direct relationship between shark attacks and the locations where shark ecotourism is conducted, likely due to the remoteness of these locations and a lack of routine when attracting sharks to a site (Cubero‐Pardo et al , 2011).  Therefore, there is strong evidence to suggest, as shark attacks do not specifically occur in or around shark ecotourism sites, that no link exists between the rise of shark attacks and shark ecotourism locations. Given that there is no link, there is little evidence to confirm that ecotourism activities instil learned behaviour in sharks and therefore unlikely that ecotourism locations, teach sharks to hunt humans.

Figure 1-shark (1)

Table. 1 bellow shows the number of shark attacks in Australia from 1990-2009, showing only 22 combine shark related deaths from (NSW, Qld, WA, SA, Tas, NT) in a 20 year period with 0 shark related deaths for Victoria (West, 2011)

 

Figure.1 Above, demonstrates since the beginning of shark ecotourism, shark attacks on humans are least shown to increase with activities that are predominantly associated with ecotourism practices such as Scuba diving and snorkelling (West,2011

Figure.1 Above, demonstrates since the beginning of shark ecotourism, shark attacks on humans are least shown to increase with activities that are predominantly associated with ecotourism practices such as Scuba diving and snorkelling (West,201

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is diving teaching sharks to hunt humans?

Diving with sharks from the safety of a cage is a popular ecotourism activity in Australia, participants have the opportunity to interact with sharks, and likewise sharks have the opportunity to interact with humans (Lobel, 2008). With cage diving, members of the public are given the opportunity to view the sharks in their natural environment in scuba gear from a stainless steel cage that is kept afloat by rafts, and attached to a boat by a chain (Meyer et al, 2009).  There is growing concern among the public that cage diving allows sharks to become accustomed to the presence of humans in their environment. The panic being, the next time a shark encounters a human in their environment, having been accustomed to them- will see them as a food source and target them based on this knowledge. Studies show there is no scientific evidence to support this.

Studies do indicate, sharks will not view humans as a source of prey simply because humans are present in their environment. Studies show, a shark will attack due to a number of reasons whereby not all attacks indicate a shark is hunting, instead they may be investigating their surroundings with their mouths or defending their territory by bumping or grazing humans in the water (Martin, 2007). Current scientific knowledge of shark attacks, show, a human, coupled with the act of swimming whilst wearing a wet suit, can mimic the look , sound and movement of a seal, a natural prey (Caldicoot et al, 2001). Scientists have also found, in most cases the attack is non- fatal suggesting they are ‘test biting’- implying, a possible misidentification where humans could be mistaken for seals. Furthermore, studies on shark agonistic behaviour show territorial threat displays towards humans at certain distances. Studies show, there was a critical distance to when sharks reacted and humans got too close, whereby the shark felt threatened (Martin, 2007). This demonstrates that, in the unlikely event of an attack on a human, it is unlikely related to learned behaviour, as the diver simply came too close to the shark . Therefore, sharks are not targeting divers as prey, but instead reacting to a threat in their environment (Ritter and Godknecht et al, 2001). This indicates, a shark is unlikely to be conditioned by divers, as sharks perceive a threat and not food (figure 2).

figure3-shark (1)

Figure. 2, above shows the critical distance barriers for when a shark reacts to a diver, performs a territorial threat display towards a diver, to the moment a shark is likely to attack a diver. This image indicates the shark is not hunting but instead feels threatened (Martin, 2007)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is the method of attracting sharks, teaching sharks to hunt humans?

The most common method used to attract sharks to a dive site is known as ‘chumming’ and involves throwing chum (a burley mixture of southern blue fin tuna, offal and blood) in an area where sharks are located (Huveneers et al, 2013). Chumming attracts sharks to an area by stimulating their prey sensing receptors (olfactory receptors) and luring them to the site, by appealing to the senses and alerting them to prospect of prey (Clua et al,2010).Public opinion believes, chumming will allow sharks to develop behaviour that teaches them to view humans as a source of prey. However, studies show there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

Scientific evidence does however suggest, it is plausible that sharks may begin to associate the presence of boats with food.  Studies by Fitzpatrick et al (2010), show a link between the presence of sharks and boats which have released burley. Studies show, this impacts shark ecology more than human safety, whereby sharks may become dependent on this food source, effecting natural shark behaviour (figure 3). However, the study found no link to suggest sharks can directly associate humans with the release of burley, whereby humans, could be identified as a source of prey (Ritter and Amin,2014).  Furthermore, the release of burley is not exclusive to shark ecotourism activities. In fact, fishing boats and fishing charters also use this method to attract fish and ecotourism practices simulate the same process as fishing boats which have used the same methods that have inadvertently attracted sharks for decades (Clua et al, 2010).  Studies have found no link between a rise in shark attacks and the introduction of ecotourism activities which mimic this same process (Meyer et al, 2009). However, there are misconceptions surrounding shark attraction in Australia, as not all ecotourism boats use this method of ‘chumming’.  In Australia, Adventure Bay Charters,  lure great white sharks to a dive site by acoustic means. Without chumming, irregularly pulsed signals attract sharks to a low frequency sound, and then swim over to investigate (Myrberg et al, 1969).  Since acoustic methods, do not produce the same results seen with sharks and boats, this indicates current methods of shark attraction- at least in Australia, does not allow any causal opportunity for sharks to associate divers with the presence of food. With no food to influence associative learning, it is unlikely sharks will relate food with humans.

figure4-shark (2)

Figure 3, above image shows the results for a study conducted by Fitzpatrick et al (2010) noting changes in behaviour of reef sharks when boats were present and when boats were not present, suggesting sharks may associate boats with the presence of food and become dependent on this food source.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion and recommendations

There is strong scientific evidence that the introduction of ecotourism has not lead to conditioning of sharks. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that any activities regarding ecotourism practices such as shark diving, or viewing and the location of a site can, or even do, contribute to the specifics regarding the conditioning of sharks. Therefore, these activities have no current potential to teach sharks to hunt humans. However, there is scientific evidence to suggest, in certain situations, sharks  do have the potential to develop associative learning and can associate food with an object such as a boat.  Studies show, it is not impossible that chumming can influence differing behaviour with boats and the presence of food. However, this behaviour poses an ecological risk to sharks causing food dependence, rather than a risk to humans. Current scientific evidence indicated shark behaviour and boats does not lead to humans being perceived as food. However, sharks are dangerous, territorial and naturally aggressive animals and to air on the side of caution, to minimise impacts on both sharks and humans, the practice of chumming should be avoided. Acoustic attraction, along with the viewing of sharks from a safe distance is strongly recommended, as it will also decrease the risk that divers will experience attack phenomenona known as, test biting, territorial attacks (related to territorial threat displays) OR prey misidentification.   With these recommendations in mind, it is hoped the public will shift focus away from misconceptions surrounding sharks, and focus on the much needed preservation and conservation of sharks instead.

And… there you have it! The proper scientific evidence regarding sharks, shark ecotourism and all of the myths that go with it! No more bull shark!

References

Bres, M.,” The behaviour of sharks”. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, vol. 3,  no. (2), pp. 133-159, 1993

Buzzacott, P. “An estimate of the risk of fatal shark attack whilst diving in Western Australia”, 2005

Caldicott, D. G., Mahajani, R., & Kuhn., “The anatomy of a shark attack: a case report and review of the literature”. Injury, vol. 32, no. (6), pp. 445-453,2001

Clua, E., Buray, N., Legendre, P et al., “Behavioural response of sicklefin lemon sharks Negaprion acutidens to underwater feeding for ecotourism purposes”. Marine Ecology Progress Series, vol. 414, pp. 257-266, 2010

Cubero‐Pardo, P., Herrón, P., & González‐Pérez.,”Shark reactions to scuba divers in two marine protected areas of the Eastern Tropical Pacific” Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, vol. 21, no. (3), pp. 239-246, 2011

Fitzpatrick, R., Abrantes, K. G., Seymour, J., & Barnett, A, “Variation in depth of whitetip reef sharks: does provisioning ecotourism change their behaviour?”. Coral Reefs, vol, 30 no. (3),pp. 569-577. 2010

Huveneers, C., Rogers, P. J., Beckmann, C et al.,. “The effects of cage-diving activities on the fine-scale swimming behaviour and space use of white sharks”. Marine biology,vol. 160,  no. (11), pp. 2863-287, 2013

Lobel, P. S., “Diver Eco-Tourism and the Behavior of Reef Sharks and Rays–an Overview”, 2008

Martin, R. A., “A review of shark agonistic displays: comparison of display features and implications for shark–human interactions”, Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology, vol. 40 , no. (1), pp. 3-34, 2007

Martin, R. A., Rossmo, D. K., & Hammerschlag, N., “Hunting patterns and geographic profiling of white shark predation”. Journal of Zoology, vol.279 no. (2),pp. 111-118, 2009

Meyer, Carl G., et al. “Seasonal cycles and long-term trends in abundance and species composition of sharks associated with cage diving ecotourism activities in Hawaii.” Environmental Conservation, vol. 36, pp. 02, 2009

Myrberg Jr, A. A., Banner, A., & Richard, J. D. (1969). “Shark attraction using a video-acoustic system” Marine Biology, vol. 2 no. (3) ,pp. 264-276, 1969

Ritter, E. K., & Amin., “Are Caribbean reef sharks, Carcharhinus perezi, able to perceive human body orientation?”, Animal cognition, vol. 17,  no. (3), pp. 745-753, 2014

Ritter, E. K., & Godknecht, A. J., “Agonistic displays in the blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)”. Copeia,  vol. 2000 no. (1), pp. 282-284, 2000

West, J. G.,”Changing patterns of shark attacks in Australian waters”.Marine and Freshwater Research, vol. 62, no. (6), pp. 744-754, 2011

http://adventurebaycharters.com.au/shark-cage-diving-with-great-whites/ Accessed, August 14th 2014

Humanity’s Choice

It was a cold morning in mid August in 2013 when the choice finally dawned on me, after almost 3 years at University and two ecology majors, not once before had this thought crossed my mind.  Not once in the times I analysed data, climate data, plant data and all species data- had I once visited the ideal that this choice was something all of humanity had to face. When the thought settled into my mind, I was grief struck, I was awe struck, I felt sick, tangled and distraught.  Not once had something hit so far home. In all the textbooks, in all of the lectures, in all of the labs ; not once had something hit me as hard as this did- in all of my time whilst doing Environmental Science had I ever even imagined. What happened on that cold morning in mid August 2013 in my lecture? I understood something that I never did before.  For you to understand the concept in just the right amount of intensity that I felt at that very moment, you need to let go of the pre-conceived notions that fill you with ideas about the environment.  Think about what those words ‘threatened’ and ‘endangered’ mean to both you, and to others around you.

When I ask- what does the label endangered or threatened species really mean? The first thing you think is, ‘Oh my god, extinction!’ Your first response will probably be ‘my children will never get to see rhinos and elephants- they will only be in text books’.  We all know about the risk of losing species, and we all know about the attempts to save those species at risk and we all know that no attempts to save species will ultimately lead to their extinction.  But, have we ever even considered what will happen if we can’t ‘save’ them all? In mid August 2013, something dawned on me.

Blinded by ideals, my class mates and I worked on the lesson task and discussed species loss.  We had been given a task to devise ways to save species at risk and how they can be saved using modern Environmental Science. With a blind heart full of dreams, my initial thought was ‘all species would be saved- because surely all environmentalists will save them all’. By the end of the class, my thinking suddenly changed. Then it dawned on me, there are over 30,000 endangered/threatened species (Baillie et al, 2004), we simply cannot save them all, no amount of conservation will save them all. My heart sunk and it was then that I knew.

I was faced with the cruel raw reality standing before me. Humanity has to make a choice, in fact humanity has NO choice but to make a choice. Humanity must decide who stays or goes, my hands were shaking and I looked over at my class mates with their hearts still full of dreams and it felt like my heart stopped.

So… now I ask the question, how do we make that choice, how do we make the most difficult and the most important decision a single species (humanity) is ever going to make? Similarly, a scarier thought… what if… we had, already made that choice? What if in all the haste to save the rhino, the panda and the Siberian tiger, have we unconsciously made the wrong choice?  On that cold mid August morning I was faced with the biggest reality of them all, what will humanity choose?

To understand the complexity of this seemingly endless swell, we need to explore the ideas behind species loss, and what it really means to ‘lose’, a species. What is the context of these words ‘threatened and endangered’, what do they mean? How is each label determined? Baillie et al, (2004) states, these words are used as a reference point from the IUCN list (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and are categorised according to risk intensity. Different risks for each different species can lead to the loss of an entire species OR simply extinction. To assess this risk intensity, scientists look at the number of, the increase/decrease of a population of a species over time and the relative breeding success of the given species over time. From these deductions the risk for each species is ranked  into categories, serving as a reference point as to just how intense the risk of losing the species in question is.

The real question here is, can humans make the most important choice of all, can we chose to save the right species from the brink of extinction? Can we really make the right choice and can this choice be unaided by previous influence? Is it something we can do with a subjective eye? Of course we can- right? Well actually, probably not.  It isn’t something we like to think about too often, least of all scientists… but, humans are bias. But just how bias are we?

Scientists now know that humans have what is called a ‘cute’ meter in our brains, it’s called ‘Baby Schema’ (Glocker et al, 2009), this means, we respond to things we deem as cute, and from the age of 3 our brain is programmed to respond to specific features that mimic a human infant . The human brain responds to features such as, a rounded bulbous head, high cheekbones and large wide bulbous eyes (Sanefuji et al 2007).  So… in actual fact, since humans find these traits more appealing, where ever these traits are evident, humans have an automatic emotional response to cuddle, nurture and care for any species with similar aesthetics.  Therefore, in saying this, it isn’t too surprising that the most documented and heard of threatened species management cases worldwide belong to the cute, the cuddly and the downright adorable (Smith, 2007). That is, most threatened species management goes to species such as (to name a few), the panda, tiger and rhino. Unfortunately, it is all too true, and those species which are not deemed as ‘cute’, actually do receive less attention, in fact it’s well documented that this is the case. Scientists even have a name for it, it’s called; the Noahs Ark problem (Perry, 2010).

Aside from the lack of subjectivity and clear bias, the fact is, we (the human species) are selecting cute animals to save. By simply selecting our ‘favourite species’, it is unlikely to affect the planet in droves isn’t it? No. Actually, it is likely that in making this choice to save only ‘cute species’, other species will die as a result (Chaplin et al, 2000). It pains me to say this so casually and without emotion, yes- other species will die. If we painfully ignore that concept as part of our future- on the other hand, what if choosing to let a species die could actually not just wipe out one or two species (which is sadly a given and therefore not the most devastating aspect here) – but instead an entire community and the community that depends on that community? Not only will humanity have to consciously decide which species will go extinct, humanity could unconsciously choose to let the wrong species go extinct! All, without even considering the consequence, that humanity too will suffer!  Such a species like this in science is what is known as a keystone species, and if you lose a keystone species, entire communities can cease to exist (Dobson et al, 2006).

So what are keystone species? What do they do? What happens if you remove a key stone species? Keystone species are those species that mandate the function and unity of ecosystems. Keystone species hold all species in the community together in what is known as a trophic level order (Duanne et al, 2002).   Any species loss is biodiversity loss and when a  keystone species is lost, it is likely to cause a cascade effect, or a trophic cascade. As a result, entire communities hang in the balance. Ecosystems provide services to humans in what is collectively referred to as, ecosystem services (Chaplin et al, 2000). If a keystone species is lost, not only will an entire community collapse, humans will lose the service an ecosystem has to offer too. For example, removing a keystone species such as tuna, can affect an entire food web causing mass species extinction and mass economic welfare to the fishing industry (Chaplin et al, 2000).

Humanity has created an experiment. Not only could we make the wrong choices, but there’s nothing to say we haven’t already! There’s nothing to say, that ANY of the species we are trying to save are OR are not keystone species, just like the tuna. Consider this, it’s a scary terrifying thought to question whether saving a species such as the panda or rhino is right, but quite another to consider the possibility that a tiny little invertebrate such an ugly snail or warty toad, holds the key to the survival of every living species within the community the rhino or panda exist in. Then ask yourself, what happens if we a) never know of their existence and b) never know AND let them go extinct in our quest for cuteness? Sadly, the answer is, we don’t know. Scientists don’t know what the consequence of selecting cuteness will bring, we don’t know what the consequence of our already pre-programmed appeal to nurture and care for animals (that remind us of our own cute little infants)-will bring.

Humanity must decide, not only do we have to roll up our sleeves and open our minds to the incredibly difficult decision as to what species we will save, we also we need to be aware that our decision is pre-programmed instinct. An instinct designed to assist us in rearing our own young, which can be incredibly emotionally driven and without subjectivity (Sanefuji et al, 2007). All the while, these choices are strongly affected by the biological desire to protect all that we deem as cute.  If all of the animals we want to save are all ‘cute’, which cute ones do we save (will it be the rhino, the elephant, the tiger or maybe the panda?) Nevertheless, perhaps more importantly, we also need to consider- in our quest to save cute, have the not- so -cute completely lucked out? Are we creating our own unique biodiversity loss, is there a not –so- cute keystone species being driven to extinction? If so, what will happen to the environment if we make the wrong choice? OR have we already made the wrong choice?

Humanity has a choice, this is no ordinary choice, it is a choice that hangs in the balance of our very existence. Asking the question to anyone, ‘which species should live and which species should die’, is truly shocking, but there is nothing more real about this statement. On that cold day in mind August 2013, it wasn’t the fact that some species were not going to be saved that shook me. No, it was the likely hood that humanity would make the wrong choice and would not save the right ones. For me, it’s not simply the question of asking which ‘species we save and which we should not’, for the question in its self is riddled with discomfort. It’s also not even the notion of which ‘not- so- cute’ keystone species we should save or let go- despite that it’s even more confronting and uncomfortable as the later. No, for me, it’s considering the likely hood that anything that isn’t cute- be it keystone species or not, will be forgotten and will not be saved ; going down in history as humanity’s secret pushed- to- the –corner, shame. The shameful choice, the choice that alters the future of the planet for every single living thing.  And, perhaps the most confronting of them all on that cold mid August morning- the thing that terrified me the most and the thing that really hit home? That subconscious scientific affirmation that, I, as an Environmental Scientist -already knew the answer. The answer, that humanity has probably already made that choice.  Because for humanity, the final decision will always be the elephant in the room (or not, depending on how ‘cute’ that elephant is) and when faced with a double-edged sword for who stays and who goes; for humanity, not unlike all species, instinct will always reign supreme.

 

Baillie, J., Hilton-Taylor, C., & Stuart, S. N. (Eds.). (2004). 2004 IUCN red list of threatened species: a global species assessment. IUCN.

Chapin III, F. S., Zavaleta, E. S., Eviner, V. T., Naylor, R. L., Vitousek, P. M., Reynolds, H. L., … & Díaz, S. (2000). Consequences of changing biodiversity.Nature405(6783), 234-242.

Dobson, A., Lodge, D., Alder, J., Cumming, G. S., Keymer, J., McGlade, J., … & Xenopoulos, M. A. (2006). Habitat loss, trophic collapse, and the decline of ecosystem services. Ecology87(8), 1915-1924.

Dunne, J. A., Williams, R. J., & Martinez, N. D. (2002). Network structure and biodiversity loss in food webs: robustness increases with connectance. Ecology letters5(4), 558-567.

Glocker, M. L., Langleben, D. D., Ruparel, K., Loughead, J. W., Gur, R. C., & Sachser, N. (2009). Baby schema in infant faces induces cuteness perception and motivation for caretaking in adults. Ethology115(3), 257-263.

Perry, N. (2010). The ecological importance of species and the Noah’s Ark problem. Ecological Economics69(3), 478-485.

Sanefuji, W., Ohgami, H., & Hashiya, K. (2007). Development of preference for baby faces across species in humans (Homo sapiens). Journal of Ethology,25(3), 249-254.

Smith, K. Funding Distribution of the Endangered Species Act. (2007)