The Science of Sustainability

Would You Eat A Tiger For Lunch?

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Most people don’t know that the animals we are eating from the ocean are vastly different from the animals we eat on land.

I have been working lately with John McCosker, Chair of Aquatic Biology department at the Academy, in preparation for his talk – Sharks: Why We Need, Fear and Love Them at the next NightLife on April 29th. It is in collaboration with the Great White Shark episode QUEST has produced featuring John McCosker in his research with Great White Sharks. It also goes into why these animals are now threatened. There was a portion of the video that showed sharks being hauled up onto a boat only to have their fins cut off and then the injured animal being thrown overboard to sink to the bottom of the ocean. Shark Fin Soup being is demand is influencing this practice. I physically cringed at the cruelty and mentally noted, “Okay, that’s another species I vow to never eat.”

My list thus far of animals from the ocean I will never eat:

Octopus
Squid
Giant Sea Bass
And recently added Shark

The first three animals I have come to be more closely acquainted with while volunteering in the Steinhart Aquarium on Tuesday mornings. I regularly help with the Tidepool, Octopus and Giant Sea Bass tanks and have grown quite fond of them and their inhabitants. On my last morning volunteering, I was given the opportunity to give the small Octopus in the tidepool a sardine-on-a-stick. Seeing a tentacle tentatively reach out and then deftly take the sardine and then try to take the whole stick definitely made an impression. As well, every Tuesday, I spend time preparing squid in the Aquarium prep kitchen for the black tip reef shark’s lunch given later in the day. That duty has made me grow much less fond of squid. I’m not the only one who has worked in the Aquarium who has a list. John McCosker suggested sushi for dinner as long as the apex predators were not on the menu. Moreover, many biologists have told me that their seafood consumption has drastically decreased with the increasing knowledge they have gained working in the Steinhart.

Most people don’t know that the animals we are eating from the ocean are vastly different from the animals we eat on land. Bluefin Tuna, Sharks, Octopus, and Squid are predators. We eat chicken, cows, ducks and pigs on land, which are herbivores and omnivores. Eating a shark or tuna is analogous to eating a tiger. We wouldn’t eat a tiger, but the demand for seafood is threatening top predators in the ocean. In the example of sharks, John McCosker notes, “It's tragic for sharks, and tragic for the ecosystem…Sharks are top-level predators for the ocean ecosystem. And the oceans are collapsing. When the sharks go, there are no controls.”

What does he mean by no controls? An ecosystem is a tiered system. Predators ensure that no one animal population explodes. If a hunted population does explode it will then eat food lower in the food chain without check and cause animal and plant populations to crash. With fewer Great White Sharks in the ocean, Sea Lion populations have already adversely affected the Salmon population off the coast of Northern California.

The Seafood Guide put out by Monterey Aquarium is a great way to become educated about what seafood is sustainable and which ones when eaten without check lead to imbalance in the Ocean’s ecosystem. I have downloaded the application onto my phone and check it when I go out for sushi or seafood. I have angered many a waitress with that application! Yet, I wouldn’t eat a tiger and want to give the mighty predators of the ocean the same respect. I have a feeling that means my list is going to big bigger.

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Category: Biology, Partners

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About the Author ()

Cathleen (Cat) is the former Special Projects Manager at California Academy of Sciences and worked in the public programs division. Before working at the Academy, Cat got her start as an intern at Lindsay Wildlife Museum for four years and worked with animals ranging from snakes and hawks to foxes and bobcats. She has a deep curiosity about the natural world and native California wildlife.