@SfriedScientist brought to my attention on twitter PETA’s new campaign, saying PETA is “now only concerned with the ethical treatment of *some* animals, vilifies sharks”. Indeed, their new campaign is wrong on so many levels. The ad in question is below:
The backstory makes it incredibly insensitive and horrific as well, as Toni Whitt explains:
A man who was reportedly bitten by a 9-foot bull shark while fishing off of the coast of Anna Maria Island on Saturday is now the target of a vicious outdoor advertising campaign on bus benches and billboards in and around Manatee County.
As the friends who helped save his life were interviewed on national television and C.J. Wickersham was recovering after getting 700 to 800 stitches in his leg at Bayfront Medical Center, PETA was completing the design of its anti-fishing campaign featuring a shark swimming with a bloody human leg in its mouth.
Officials with PETA said the campaign was prompted by reports that Wickersham was bitten by a shark while spearfishing in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Anna Maria Island. The message behind the outdoor advertising campaign is meant to be that the deadliest killers in the water aren’t sharks — they’re humans.
The ad shows what PETA describes as “a human drumstick” hanging out of a shark’s mouth next to the words “Payback Is Hell. Go Vegan.”
I understand what PETA does and how it thinks using shock value will change people’s minds. But, it won’t. At least, not in the numbers that matter to anything. I’m certainly not one to disparage the “every person can make a difference” crowd, I believe we should all do our part to solve problems. But PETA has created a non-problem to suit its purposes and seems the most able at creating divisive ads that almost appear designed to backfire.
Remember when PETA used to be about improved conditions for animals in shelters and laboratories? They somehow morphed into an aggressive vegan action group. I spent 18 years as a vegetarian, a few of those as a vegan. I’ve never been a PETA supporter, although I was tricked by their outreach in high school as an organization that helps get shelter animals adopted. That clearly isn’t the case. PETA, as an organization, puts more energy into its stunts and shenanigans than real behind-the-scenes, mission-driven work to improve life for captive animals. Many of its 130K + supporters might be unaware of how little difference they probably make. This is just my opinion, though.
But the real whammer for this ad is that is vilifies and plays our existing fears of shark as evil, man-eating, ocean-fun killers. This makes it harder for those people who work tirelessly in shark conservation to ACTUALLY save animals lives and educate people about the dangers of eating unsafe meat, unsustainable harvesting and an unfounded perpetuation of a damaging stereotype. One where people like this “shark hunter” can be glorified for killing over 100,000 sharks since beginning just after Jaws hit the silver screen, while bragging “[i]t is the large scale commercial line fishermen in Florida and worldwide who do the damage, not a recreational lone fisherman like me.” Indeed…
PETA’s actions are thoughtlessly in direct opposition to people who are on-the-ground, doing the dirty work of compromising and dealing with stakeholders in shark fisheries and tourism. The people who are making great progress in policy changes, conservation challenges and addressing the industry. Additionally, PETA’s actions negate its own mission to encourage animal rights. That is, animals that they pre-approve of and fit a certain narrative that they can rustle celebrities behind.