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This story comes to us from our newest Angel, Thomas Ponce, who at 11 is leading Fin Free Florida. We need more kids like this!
I’d like to share a story about my vacation to Venice Beach, which is also known as Shark Tooth Beach. This was the trip I had been waiting for ever since I had seen this location on the Discovery Channel over a year ago. Having the opportunity to find fossilized shark teeth that have been in the waters for over millions of years was something I was ecstatic about! It was a perfect day to go sifting for shark teeth. I walked into the water up to my knees, sifter in hand, and began sifting. I dug my scooper into the sand, beneath the water, and pulled up many small teeth. I found great white teeth, bull shark teeth, tiger shark teeth and a few I was unsure about, it was amazing. Then it happened. I hit the jackpot! I discovered in my scoop the largest tooth I had ever seen. It was four inches long and black in color. Its edges were serrated and you could still see the gum line. The great white teeth I found paled in comparison to this massive tooth. It was a Megaladon tooth! My dream had come true, I had found one! This was the best birthday present I could have ever gotten, or so I thought.
After sifting for teeth we went to a pier to watch the sunset. While walking on the pier with my family we came across a fisherman fishing off the pier. The fisherman pulled a Bonnet Head Shark in on his fishing line. He pulled him out of the water and laid him on the pier ready to gut and pack in ice to take home for dinner. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, it was a baby. I told my Mom and Dad that I had to do something. I pleaded with the man to set him free for about 20 minutes with the shark flapping and gasping for air on the deck. It was a horrible sight. The fisherman just kept saying it was his dinner and he was keeping it. I offered to buy him dinner if he released him, I explained that he was a living creature with a family and feelings and deserved to live. He was refusing to set him free. Soon after a few other onlookers heard my pleas and came around to see what all the commotion was about. They too listened to me as I explained to all of them how important sharks are to us all and to our ecosystem. After what seemed like an eternity, the fisherman finally conceded and told me that I could set him free. I couldn’t believe it, I did it! I immediately walked over and picked up the shark, I swear the shark looked at me with gratitude. He was alive because I spoke up for him and he knew it. I saw the understanding in his eyes. I said a few words and told him to live free as I threw him gently back into the water.
As I watched him swim away I realized even more what I had always believed, one person can make a difference. Yes it was only one shark that I physically saved that day (and I’m sure he was grateful), but think of all the other people who heard about their struggles and maybe learned something. If even one of those people changes their view on sharks and decides to do something about it than that’s one more person who the sharks have on their side and that’s one more than yesterday! We all can turn things around for the sharks if we pitch in together and try.
That day changed me forever and now I fight for sharks rights. I have always been an active animal activist and a vegetarian. I had run many fundraisers for farm animals and spaying and neutering your pets, and signed petitions against animal cruelty and protested at various sites where cruelty had been taking place, but until that day I hadn’t really concentrated my efforts on sharks. I started doing some research and I watched a documentary called Sharkwater and it gave me insight into the plight of the shark. It showed me the horrors they faced due to the finning industry. They were being killed in huge quantities for their fins and were becoming extremely close to extinction. It was a horrible discovery and one that moved me to act and speak up for the sharks. From that moment on I have dedicated myself to making as many people aware of what’s going on with sharks as I can. I joined a shark protection group called Fin Free and am now the Regional Coordinator for the state of Florida. My hope is that through educating people on the cruel and inhumane acts being done to sharks and by explaining the importance of sharks to the ocean ecosystem, as well as our own environment that I can make a difference in helping to preserve this beautiful species. I have started working with an attorney and am learning about lobbying. I hope to one day soon be speaking at Congress on behalf of sharks and lobbying to bring change to the finning laws in our country.
December 16, 2011 the ocean gave me two gifts, a Megaladon tooth and an appreciation and love of sharks. In return, I gave it back one of its own and a voice that could be heard and would never be silenced.
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