Senators share their fascination with sharks at hearing

Senators share their fascination with sharks at hearing
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Lawmakers on Wednesday held a hearing on sharks to examine new research, conservation techniques and ways to improve understanding of the unique animals.

The hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, titled simply "SHARKS!," featured experts in shark research who told lawmakers how their discoveries are benefiting the medical and tech fields.

“Americans have been fascinated by sharks,” said Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph Thune15 senators miss votes despite McConnell's criticism of absentees Senate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up GOP leader criticizes Republican senators for not showing up to work MORE (R-S.D.). “Aquariums and other educational programs have helped to demystify sharks and our initial fear has turned into fandom.”

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The hearing also comes just before the start of The Discovery Channel’s 30th annual “Shark Week,” which is set to begin July 22.

Dr. Robert Hueter, the senior scientist and director of the Center for Shark Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., credited the annual television event with leading to a better understanding of the complex creatures.

Americans are now "rooting the shark on," Hueter said.

“They understand that that shark is not really threatening them, they’re not looking for people, that they’re there trying to do their thing and they’ve been there for millions of years,” Hueter said.

“So I feel like we’re winning that battle, especially in the United States.”

He praised the current era as one of "shark conservation activism.”

Dr. Al Dove, the vice president of research and conservation at the Georgia Aquarium, said there are about six unprovoked human fatalities from sharks in a year. Fishermen, though, harvest between 100 and 200 million sharks per year.

Another important aspect of shark conservation is environmental activism.

“Very simply put, sharks are apex predators; they’re top of the food chain,” Amy Kukulya, the principal investigator and senior AUV operations engineer with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said. “If they collapse, the fish underneath them collapse.”

Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenators share their fascination with sharks at hearing Poll: Majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Protests and anger: Washington in turmoil as elections near MORE (D-Wash.) asked if minimizing the use of plastics, especially in straws, will help sharks. Seattle recently banned the use of plastic straws and utensils.

“We shouldn’t be surprised to see the ocean plastic crisis expressing itself in sharks,” Dove said. “This is a global problem because there is one ocean that connects us all and it impacts the sharks, and it ultimately impacts us as well.”

Dove also praised a recent decision by Starbucks to end the use of plastic straws in its stores.

Shark migration patterns and their overall distribution has also been impacted by pollution and changing temperatures, the experts told Congress.

And they shared some of the benefits of shark research. Research on sharks has been used to help improve treatment of burn victims, work on antibiotics and even improve airplane and Olympic swimsuit design.

Because sharks are able to “neutralize cancer within their own bodies,” according to Hueter, they are vital to cancer research.

Lawmakers also touted the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act and the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, bills aimed at promoting shark protection and conservation.

The senators shared their enthusiasm for sharks and conservation.

“What many of you may not know is my home state of South Dakota has a long history with sharks,” Thune said.

He proceeded to show fossilized teeth from his home state “sharp enough to take down the occasional dinosaur.”

“Believe it or not, some people pay money to swim with sharks,” ranking member Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump showcases ICE ahead of midterm elections Dem campaign chairman expresses confidence over path to Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) MORE (D-Fla.) said about the role of sharks in ecotourism in his home state.

There was no mention at the hearing of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump threatens ex-intel official's clearance, citing comments on CNN Protesters topple Confederate monument on UNC campus Man wanted for threatening to shoot Trump spotted in Maryland MORE, however. Adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who alleges she had an affair with Trump in 2006, has said he is "terrified" of sharks.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, claims she saw Trump once watching part of Shark Week.

“He is obsessed with sharks. Terrified of sharks. He was like, 'I donate to all these charities and I would never donate to any charity that helps sharks. I hope all the sharks die,’ ” Clifford said in a 2011 interview.

The experts who testified before Congress wouldn't agree with that sentiment.

“When you see a shark swimming out there, rejoice! That means it’s a healthy ocean,” Hueter told lawmakers.