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May 6, 2013

Attacking shark myths

Woman raises awareness for most-feared fish

Amesbury’s Cynthia Wigren is on a mission.

The president and co-founder of the recently formed Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC), Wigren is intent on bringing awareness and understanding — while dispelling harmful myths — about the Atlantic Ocean’s most fearsome fish: the great white shark.

Wigren and her fellow co-founders launched the nonprofit organization late last year after an eye-opening trip to South Africa exposed them to the plight of the shark — one of the world’s most misunderstood animals, they say.

Based on Cape Cod, where Wigren’s colleagues live and Wigren resides part-time, the goal of the conservancy is to educate the public about the role of the animal, to inspire conservation efforts and to support scientific research on the great white shark.

An “apex predator,” the great white shark is critical to keeping the ocean healthy, Wigren said.

As the great white and other shark species disappear, the ocean’s predator-prey balance becomes disrupted, compromising the health of the world’s oceans and the survival of other marine species, she added.

As the majority of the oxygen humans breathe comes from the oceans, that survival becomes imperiled when our oceans are unhealthy, Wigren said.

Still more than 100 million sharks are killed globally each year by humans. Overfishing, habitat destruction and trophy hunting all contribute to the shark’s demise. But a culinary preference is also behind a stunning number of deaths, according to Wigren.

“Finning is the gruesome practice of slicing off the fins of a live shark, then allowing the shark to drop to the ocean’s depths to suffocate, bleed out, and die” for the purpose of making shark fin soup, she said.

“When you see something that is so feared in an incredibly vulnerable position ... your perception changes from fearing the potential harm they are capable of causing us, to acknowledging the harm we are inflicting upon them,” she added.

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